Earth Day report on Bush’s environmental policies

CHICAGO—Illinois’ environment faces a long list of challenges exacerbated by the Bush administration’s environmental policies, according to a new Earth Day report released by Illinois PIRG and the state’s leading environmental organizers. “Illinois’ Environment at Risk” details the local impacts of recent decisions at the federal level to weaken environmental protections. The groups denounced the Bush administration’s environmental rollbacks, and urged Illinois policymakers to take advantage of state-level opportunities to protect public health and the environment.

“The decisions the Bush administration is making in Washington, D.C. have very real consequences for our land, air and water here in Illinois,” said Rebecca Stanfield, environmental attorney with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG). “While the Bush administration lets the polluters rewrite the environmental rules in Washington, our health and environment pay the price,” she continued.

Illinois PIRG’s report highlights the Bush administration policies that will have the greatest impact on the environment and public health in Illinois. Specifically:

u In 2002, Illinois residents were exposed to unhealthy air on 35 days, and the week of April 12, EPA designated 12 Illinois counties as out of attainment with the federal health standard for smog. The Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued two rules that eliminate the primary enforcement mechanism for cutting soot and smog pollution from the nation’s dirtiest power plants, known as New Source Review (NSR). This rollback will cause more smoggy days, more asthma attacks, and more acid rain.

u All of Illinois’ lakes and rivers, including Lake Michigan, are currently under a fish consumption advisory for mercury pollution. Although EPA just weeks ago warned women and children to limit their consumption of tuna because of mercury contamination, EPA has proposed a new plan to weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

u More than 2.5 million people have submitted comments to the Forest Service about the widely popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule, enacted in 2001 to protect 58.5 million acres of wild national forest land from most commercial logging and road-building, including 11,000 acres of pristine forests in Illinois. Instead of protecting these wild places, the Forest Service has failed to implement the Roadless Rule and may further weaken it.

u Seven hundred thirty-eight waterways in Illinois are already too polluted for safe fishing and swimming. The Bush administration instructed EPA and Army Corps of Engineers staff to stop using the Clean Water Act to protect so-called “isolated” waterways, allowing polluters to dump more toxic chemicals into streams and developers to drain and fill more wetlands. The administration also has proposed allowing wastewater treatment facilities to dump inadequately treated sewage into our waterways.

“Protecting our national forests is a great public legacy that we can and should leave for future generations. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule does just that—it protects some of our most pristine forests while allowing for the public to enjoy these areas in various recreation activities like biking, hiking, fishing and hunting,” said Ryan Canney, environmental organizer for Citizen Action/Illinois.

The Illinois-based public health and environmental organizations pointed to three key decisions ahead for state policymakers to protect public health and the environment.

“Illinois doesn’t have to sit back while the Bush administration rolls back protections for our air and water,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “Illinois’ leaders have the chance to act now to step up where the Bush administration has backed down from protecting our environment.”

The organizations enumerate five priority issues for state policymakers:

1. Set new emission rules for Illinois’ coal-burning power plants this year. These rules should require our electric power industry to meet modern emission standards by 2010. Doing so would dramatically reduce mercury contamination in our lakes and streams, while helping to ensure that we can breathe our air without harming our health.

2. Pass a renewable energy standard for our state, making mandatory the current state goal for clean renewable energy use of 5 percent by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020.

3. Pass an energy efficiency building code for commercial buildings in Illinois.

4. Reject legislation that reduces the fees that polluters pay for permits to dump waste into our lakes and streams. The revenues from these fees should go toward implementation of the state’s clean water program, which is under-funded by approximately $20 million per year at present.

5. Wetlands—Pass the Illinois Wetlands Protection Act, HB 422, to restore protection to Illinois wetlands left unprotected by a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and by the Bush administration. The Illinois DNR estimates that 150,000 acres of wetlands in Illinois lost all federal protection due to the ruling and the Bush administration’s interpretation of it. HB 422, which will be considered by the Illinois Senate this spring, would provide protection for Illinois’ remaining wetlands.

“While the Bush administration has become notorious for undermining environmental policies, we can and must do better here in Illinois,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “The lack of leadership in Washington really needs to be countered with strong leadership from our governor and our legislators in Springfield.”

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!