Whether she runs for governor or not, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would need nine lives to bring the state's notoriously broken regulatory system into compliance with the nation's most reckless coal industry.
With state coal production soaring against national trends, Illinois cemented its reputation as the worst rogue state for coal operations last Friday, when the rubber-stamping operations of the state's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a pollutant discharge permit to a company already cited by the state for more than 600 toxic discharge violations at its central Illinois non-union strip mine.
Translation: Imagine the Department of Motor Vehicles renewing the driver's license of a toxic-laden truck driver with 600 DUI's.
Welcome to Illinois—where the brand new Prairie State coal-fired plant is facing "potential fraud" investigations for rocket increases in electricity rates; where the second highest number of contaminated coal ash dump sites in the country abound; where a mind-boggling high hazard coal slurry dam continues to rise in sight of a farm town's nursing home and day care center; where Illinois taxpayers underwrite a huge slush fund for coal marketing, including a shameless "coal education curriculum" for students that blatantly covers up the facts on the state's deadly coal industry; where even the liberal U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin fights for the pork of "clean coal" as the main utility company backs out of the FutureGen boondoggle.
Even with black lung disease for coal miners spiking, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was also found in violation of state law's for failing to hire enough mine safety inspectors.
It's so pathetic in Illinois that even bankrupt energy companies are granted two-year extensions on their deadly emissions clean up requirements.
It's so pathetic in Illinois that there's not even a coal severance tax, or collection of sales tax for out-of-state transactions--a huge detail when record coal exports now drive the market.
It's so pathetic in Illinois that we don't even celebrate Coal Miners Day—just the coal barons.
And last Friday's notice by the Illinois EPA, sent in an email after working hours, on the granting of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for Springfield Coal's strip mine operation near the township of Industry might be the most unabashed denial of facts and community input in recent memory.
"The fact that this mine, with hundreds of water violations has been allowed to function these past five years without even having their permit approved until after the fact is totally appalling," said long-time area resident Kimberly Sedgwick, who has spent years begging state agencies and organizations to intervene in the violation-ridden mine. "If companies are allowed to proceed without having permits prior, then what sort of atrocities are actually taking place? Unless I am missing something here, This is a complete mockery of our state agency and our Illinois system. It points towards corruption if you ask me. This is totally unacceptable!"
Along with being a dumping ground of toxic coal ash, the industry mine will continue to discharge into Grindstone Creek, a historic watershed that served the first mills in the region, and flows into Camp Creek, a major site for historic Native American occupation, and then into the Lamoine River.
Call it a chronicle of a rigged permit system foretold.
I'll never forget a public hearing on the Industry mine held in Macomb, Illinois, on April 12, 2011, packed to the gills by locals against the strip mine, and listening to Illinois EPA official Larry Crislip inform a concerned citizen that the Illinois EPA had never denied a coal mining NPDES permit. Ever. No matter how bad of an outlaw mining operation.
From the hearing transcripts:
MR. MOOREHOUSE: Okay. In the past the IEPA has refused—has the EPA in the past refused to issue a permit to a serial violator to a coal surface mine?
MR. CRISLIP: To my recollection, I do not recall denying a permit. We work those issues out.
According to Illinois EPA spokesperson Dean Studer, Crislip was not available to explain how Illinois bureaucrats "work those issues out" this week because he was on a two-week vacation.
Kind of makes you miss the old days of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was at least open about his Coal Revival Program.
Either way, forget climate change denial. Still in the 19th century regulatory mode, Illinois has become the king of coal denial. And regulated coal destruction.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.