Guest Column: Environmentalists grill candidates

It’s not too often environmentalists get to question candidates, especially statewide. But election years force politicians to look for audiences of voters. And environmentalists vote.

So Sierra Club questioned state candidates on environmental issues, and the answers showed our local reps are pretty good! Chuck Jefferson and Dave Winters have won support, and environmentalists may swing the two contested races. In opinion polls, Illinoisans have expressed concern about vanishing open spaces. Voters approved local and county ballot initiatives for conservation funding. Yet, Illinois forests are fragmented. Ninety percent of original wetlands have been destroyed, and the Prairie State has less than .01 percent of its native prairie.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that it’s up to the states to protect “isolated” wetlands. With this ruling, almost half of Illinois’ wetlands, which control flooding, wildlife habitat and water quality, are now up for grabs. So environmentalists ask state candidates to protect wetlands no longer protected by the feds.

Yet, developers are asking for just the opposite. There’s legislation in the Illinois Senate (SB 761), to revoke counties’ authority to protect wetlands with storm water management programs. Are candidates against that?

Our candidates should tell the voters they support long-term land acquisition programs. We want more parks, prairies and wild areas. Right now, some of these funds are being raided to pay for road construction and other stuff.

The Illinois waterways are much cleaner, thanks to pollution control. However, more than 400 rivers, lakes and streams across Illinois fail to meet minimal standards for healthy drinking water, swimming or even wildlife habitat. According to the Illinois EPA (former Mayor Doug Scott’s new job), $26 million is needed annually to protect our water. Water pollution permit fees raise $21 million annually; however, most of the funds have been devoted to the general revenue. We want to ask our representatives if they think water permit fees should go to water pollution control.

There is also a House bill (1502) to ban phosphorus from dishwashing machine detergents to help improve water quality statewide. We hope our politicians can support that minimalist legislation. Cleaning up aboveground septic systems and empowering local government to manage water resources are also of interest.

And, of course, poorly planned development is perhaps the greatest threat to Illinois’ environment. Sprawl has gobbled up open space, natural areas and farmland. You must have a car to travel anywhere. As a result, air pollution is a major problem. The Sierra Club does not support the Peotone airport, and has asked Illinois politicians to oppose it. But it does support better transit, bicycles and pedestrian options. Also, clean energy is good for the environment. It creates jobs and stimulates economic development. Wind power, especially when the Illinois Legislature is in session, and solar and clean coal would create 8,000 new jobs and $7 billion in economic development.

When a semi trailer is idling at a truck stop, the diesel that is emitted is dangerous to nearby neighbors, especially the kids. One hour of idling wastes about a gallon of diesel fuel. Reducing idling would not only reduce health problems; it would also save taxpayers in fuel costs. The Sierra Club is asking politicians to limit the idling of heavy-duty diesel trucks, and to require school buses to reduce diesel pollution emissions.

Some of these appear as minor issues, but they gravely affect the standard of living (i.e., Should all-terrain vehicles be allowed to run around in state parks?).

We will have an opportunity to speak to the state candidates Monday, Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St. You are welcome. Bring your environmental questions as well.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Sept. 20-26, 2006, issue

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