Environment Illinois: Legislative wrap-up: Victories for Illinois’ environment

By Max Muller
Program Director, Environment Illinois

The Illinois general assembly’s budget-wranglers may still be trying to pass a solution to the state’s pension mess, but the 2010 legislative session is, for the most part, over. It’s a good time for end-of-session wrap-ups.

So how did our legislators do on the environment this year? Well, in short, whether you’re most concerned about breathing clean air, growing green energy jobs, cutting toxic pollution, or ensuring fish-able and swim-able waters, 2010 saw some steps forward. Here are some highlights:

A sunnier future for Illinois

May 26, the legislature passed two key bills designed to ramp up Illinois’ solar power generation and prompt the growth of an in-state solar industry.

The first will give clean energy businesses a green light to invest in solar power and create new Illinois jobs in clean energy. Back in 2007, Illinois passed a nation-leading renewable energy standard, which requires 25 percent of Illinois’ electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and which is contributing to major growth in Illinois’ wind power industry. Seeking to do the same for solar, in 2009, the legislature passed a bill requiring that 6 percent of that renewable energy be generated by solar photovoltaics by 2016.

This year’s House Bill (H.B.) 6202 is about accelerating growth in the solar power industry now, when market conditions are right—as a result of federal incentives and low solar prices—rather than five years down the road. By ramping up solar in Illinois’ renewable energy mix—from 0.5 percent in 2012 to 6 percent by 2015, and with intermediate goals in between—it will help stop global warming while creating between 4,000 and 8,000 new green jobs and generating more than 3 million kilowatt hours of solar electricity by 2015.

The second bill, the Homeowners’ Solar Right Act (H.B. 5429), clears away outdated restrictions and clarifies the rights of homeowners living in homeowner and condo associations to install solar panels.

Eight years of progress cutting mercury pollution

This session continued a winning streak that has made Illinois a national leader in protecting public health from mercury—a potent toxin that damages the human heart, brain and immune system. Mercury has been used in a variety of consumer products and measuring devices for many years. When disposed of, these products may be crushed or incinerated, causing mercury pollution that accumulates in fish people eat.

In seven of the eight legislative sessions since 2003, environmental groups have succeeded in passing legislation removing mercury from products. In 2007, one of those bills banned the sale of new mercury-containing thermostats—each of which contains about 4 grams of mercury—but the bill did not address the millions of thermostats already installed in homes and businesses across Illinois.

This year’s Mercury Thermostat Collection Act (Senate Bill 3346) requires thermostat manufacturers to establish an EPA-monitored program to collect and properly recycle end-of-life mercury-containing thermostats.

Clean water

Illinois’ most widespread water quality problem is nutrient pollution. The vast majority of Illinois’ waters are impaired by excess nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which render water unsafe to drink and bad-tasting and fill lakes and streams with harmful algae and cyanobacteria.

Illinois fish will breathe a little easier this summer thanks to H.B. 6099, which will eliminate unnecessary phosphorus from most lawn treatments sold in Illinois.

So, there you go—four bills passed by the legislature for a healthier environment in Illinois. Note that all must still be signed by the governor to become law.

There were several other key victories in the form of bad environmental bills that the legislature stopped. There were also missed opportunities. And, of course, there are many more profound environmental problems that still need solving. I’ll get into some of those in a subsequent column.

Max Muller, program director for Environment Illinois, can be reached at max@environmentillinois.org.

From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue

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