environment – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.11 Fracking opponents occupy governor’s office http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/fracking-opponents-occupy-governors-office/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/fracking-opponents-occupy-governors-office/#comments Thu, 23 May 2013 03:42:02 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7241 With the State Senate set to vote on a bill regulating fracking on Thursday, opponents say they’ll continue an occupation of Governor Quinn’s office into a third day, demanding he meet with residents of areas that would be affected.

Two activists have been arrested in the sit-in.

The occupation will continue Thursday, said Angie Viands of Rising Tide Chicago, who was arrested Tuesday evening when she refused to leave.  The protestors want a moratorium on fracking in Illinois.

On Friday, Illinois Peoples Action will hold an demonstration in support of a moratorium.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, blasts millions of gallons of water laced with sand and toxic chemicals into underground layers of shale to release natural gas.

The regulatory bill was negotiated by mainstream environmental groups and gas companies, brought together by Attorney General Lisa Madigan.  The environmental groups maintain fracking is inevitable in Illinois, and say the bill contains strong protections.

The backroom dealing shut out the communities that will be affected, opponents say.  They call for a legislative task force that would hear from environmental and health scientists and hold hearings around the state.

The bill does contain extensive regulation of drilling processes, according to an analysis by William Rau of IPA.  But it requires very limited disclosure of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens; no limits on water withdrawals from rivers and lakes; no limits on fracking in seismically active areas; and no provisions for testing or storing radioactive waste water.

It leaves the bulk of cleanup costs to the state, and taxes drilling companies at rates far below other states, according to Rau.

He calls it “a loophole-ridden bill granting regulatory protection to a polluting industry,” and adds, “Rather than best practices, this is a ‘where’s the beef’ bill.”

Viands said the bill bars counties from banning fracking.  She said four downstate counties — Pope, Hardin, Union, and Jackson — have voted for a moratorium, and a fifth, Jackson County, is likely to join them soon.

Quinn has backed the regulatory bill, arguing the fracking would create jobs.

Viands said the jobs created by fracking are temporary and highly dangerous — and most of them would go to out-of-state workers.

“Instead of hydraulic fracturing, which is unsafe, temporary and a source of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases, we should be making our communities more secure by focusing on creating local clean energy solutions that are climate friendly and don’t pollute our precious fresh water,” she said.

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Asian carp DNA hits take a leap http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/asian-carp-dna-hits-take-a-leap/ Wed, 20 Jun 2012 20:13:02 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6389 DNA evidence of Asian carp beyond the electrical barrier designed to keep them out of Lake Michigan “appears to have grown ten-fold over the last year,” reports Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

One day of sampling this spring yield positive results in 15 percent of samples taken, compared to postive results in 1.5 percent of samples taken last year.  Most of the positive hits were in Lake Calumet.

The Army Corps of Engineers argues that the DNA material could be transported by a variety of means, but scientists say the overall pattern of positive results over three years “is powerful evidence that at least some live fish are swimming above the barrier,” Egan reports.

Meanwhile the Corps is undertaking a five-year study evaluating a wide range of options – “from doing nothing to inventing new poisons to experimenting with music, sound guns, and bubbles underwater,” according to Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Corps also identified scores of invasive species that could infest the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River system via the Chicago waterway system, including nearly 50 that are impervious to the electical barrier.

Authorized in 2007 and funded in 2009, the study wasn’t started until November 2010.  The Corps recently said its release, expected in 2015, could be delayed further.

Senators Richard Durbin and Debbie Stabenow have introduced legislation mandating that the Corps complete its work within 18 months, but it hasn’t moved in Congress.

Noting that the electric barrier is also susceptible to power outages, Henderson writes, “The Corps needs to get serious about the hard work of figuring out how to install a permanent physical barrier into the system that addresses legitimate commercial concerns while finally stopping the movement of all invasive species between the Mississippi River system and Great Lakes, not just the big bad Asian carp.”

Pilsen surveyed on future of coal plant site http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/pilsen-surveyed-on-future-of-coal-plant-sites/ Tue, 19 Jun 2012 22:57:52 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6382 Pilsen residents will fill out surveys at a community meeting Wednesday, describing what they want to see on the site of a local coal plant slated for closing.

It’s part of an ongoing survey being conducted by the Pilsen Alliance among its membership and at neighborhood churches and schools, said executive director Nelson Soza. The meeting is Wednesday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Casa Aztlan, 1831 S. Racine.

The Alliance wants to present its findings at a hearing of the city’s task force on reuse of the Fisk and Crawford plants next week, Soza said.  The task force is holding community hearings on June 26 at the National Museum of Mexican Art and on June 28 at the Little Village High School.

Soza is among several community representatives on the task force, along with representatives of the city and Midwest Generation, which owns the Fisk and Crawford plants.  He says discussions have been “very positive and very respectful,” with “everybody generally headed in the same direction.”

The task force is charged with sketching out a general framework for redevelopment, he points out. “The challenges will come when the details start being put down,” following the task force report, expected next month.

Soza describes an emerging consensus with economic development that provides living-wage jobs as a top priority.  “People are also hoping we can make up some of the green space deficit in Pilsen,” hopefully including public access to the Chicago River, he said.

With tactics ranging from pressure on the City Council to lawsuits and civil disobedience, community and environmental groups fought for years for the closing of the two plants.  Emissions from the old plants, which lack modern pollution controls, have contributed to higher death rates and increased levels of disease, according to researchers.

In Benton Harbor, ‘Occupy the PGA’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/in-benton-harbor-occupy-the-pga/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/in-benton-harbor-occupy-the-pga/#comments Sat, 26 May 2012 01:33:27 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6302 Hundreds of Benton Harbor residents are expected Saturday for a march on the Senior PGA Championship tournament at the controversial Harbor Shores golf course, demanding the PGA donate 25 percent of tournament profits to the city and publicly acknowledge the new golf course’s “theft of public parkland for private profit.”

They’ll dress in black for a “death march” – symbolizing “the death of democracy in Benton Harbor,” according to local civil rights leader Rev. Edward Pinkney – and fly hundreds of kites bearing the words, “Occupy the PGA.”

The march from City Hall, 200 Wall Street, to Jean Klock Park Beach starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26. Benton Harbor is about 100 miles from Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Three holes of the golf course were built on 23 acres of the city’s lakefront park by a nonprofit development company backed by Whirlpool, which has its corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor.  Dunes were excavated and hundreds of trees were removed to assure golfers a view of the lake.

Ultimately it’s supposed to be the centerpiece of a $500 million development with condos and high-end retail.

Major manufacturing operations by Whirlpool – and thousands of jobs — were moved overseas starting in the 1980s. Today Benton Harbor, which is 92 percent African American, is one of Michigan’s poorest cities.

Critics say Whirlpool wants to drive out blacks and convert Benton Harber to a resort town for wealthy weekenders.

City commissioners rescinded approval for the project in 2010.  But that year Benton Harbor became the first city in Michigan to have local governance suspended by an emergency manager appointed under a new law.

“The city is $5 million in the red,” Pinkney said.  “Whirlpool doesn’t pay any taxes, Harbor Shores doesn’t pay any taxes” – both the corporation and the development got longterm tax-abatement deals in recent years – “and the PGA is getting all the benefits and is not going to pay any taxes.”


For more:  Occupy the PGA

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Video: Firing range in Calumet wetlands http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/video-firing-range-in-calumet-wetlands/ Sat, 04 Feb 2012 21:55:25 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5615 Take two minutes and watch this video on the police firing range now planned next to sensitive Calumet area wetlands.  It’s by poet and activist Acie Cargill, and it’s an effective piece of grassroots advocacy.

If you’ve been following the issue through written descriptions here or elsewhere, it will give a good picture of  the area being impacted; if you haven’t been following the issue, you’re likely to get interested.

(I like Acie’s rendition of Can’t Stop Loving You, too; nice to see folks out dancing.)

In Millennium Reserve, a firing range? http://www.newstips.org/2012/01/in-millennium-reserve-a-firing-range/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/01/in-millennium-reserve-a-firing-range/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 00:03:49 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5041 Conservationists say they were “blindsided” when Mayor Emanuel resurrected a proposal to build a police firing range on the Southeast Side, just days after he joined in announcing the area would be part of a massive Millennium Reserve open space project.

The 33-acre firing range site is in “the heart” of what’s being called the Calumet Core, slated for the first phase of environmental renovation and trail-building under the Millennium Reserve, said Carolyn Marsh of the Chicago Audubon Society.

“It’s sad that our politicians, and particularly our new mayor, seem to be hypocritical on this issue,” Marsh said.

Days after the December 9 Millennium Reserve announcement, Emanuel requested the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to take up a dormant proposal to lease the site to the city.

At the district’s December 15 meeting, Commissioner Debra Shore moved to defer the motion for a month.  The MWRD board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting Thursday, January 5.

Environmental groups are calling on the MWRD commissioners to vote down the proposal.

Endangered species

In April, the MWRD board requested a wildlife survey of the site by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and a survey in May identified six Black Crowned Night Herons, an endangered species in Illinois, among dozens of species of birds.  But since no nests were found, IDNR registered no objections to the project.

The survey notes that measuring the impact of noise on wildlife at the site would require a long-term, specialized study.

In its annual Christmas bird count, Chicago Audubon noted two Bald Eagles not far from the proposed firing range site, Marsh said.

“Chicago Audubon has been fighting for 30 years for this area to be a mecca of connecting wetlands for wildlife, and instead we keep threatening their habitats,” she said.

The firing range site is in a 140-acre section owned by MWRD, along the Calumet River and South of 134th Street.  It’s adjacent to the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond and close by Hegewisch Marsh.

Once a wetland known as Dutchman’s Slough, it was dug up during the Deep Tunnel project and filled in with limestone, but MWRD was expected to restore the wetland, said Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Local residents will be “reminding the MWRD commissioners of their obligation to restore this parcel to its original condition,” he said.

The area should be restored with native wetlands plants so it will function as a filter for contaminated runoff from surrounding landfills which could reach the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, said Judith Lihota of the Calmuet Ecological Park Association.

And firing assault weapons on a constant basis will surely drive off wildlife, robbing them of scarce habitat and undermining the purpose of the trails being built under the Millennium Reserve project, she said.

Widely expanded training functions at the site do not seem to be out of the question, Shepherd said.  He said city officials have been vague when  residents sought to pin them down on this.

In Altgeld Gardens to the west of the site, Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery shares other residents’ environmental concerns, but she also has safety concerns.

“No one came to us to let us know that they would be building this type of facility in our area without any public comment,” she said.  “It’s just disrespecting us as residents of the city.”

“I’d like to ask the mayor, would you want something like that in your neighborhood?” she said.

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Coal ash in Lake Michigan, and more http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/coal-ash-in-lake-michigan-and-more/ Tue, 01 Nov 2011 22:23:07 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4893 The Sierra Club reports that toxic coal ash is being dumped into Lake Michigan after a retaining bluff collapsed at a power plant in Wisconsin.  Coal ash contains a variety of toxic substances, depending on the type of coal used, including arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, carcinogens and mutagens.  The U.S. Senate is considering a bill passed by the House to block the EPA from cracking down on coal ash in the water supply.

Peoples World profiles Jane Edburg, lead organizer at the South Halsted Unemployed Action Center.  Not previously an activist, Edburg became involved when she lost her shipping clerk position with a Chicago photo lab manufacturer after 32 years with the company – and after losing her unemployment benefits after 99 weeks, while sending out hundreds of resumes and job applications.

The center helps unemployed workers apply for jobs and benefits – and pushes elected officials for action on the jobs crisis.

Wal-Mart marches on in Chicago, but the company’s critics remain, reports Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times.  They say that despite recent p.r. victories, the corporation’s latest move dropping health coverage for part-time workers and increasing premiums shows that Wal-Mart is still “a cut-throat company” that drives down the standard of living.

Finally, a downstate blog posts the Notice of Eviction that Occupy Springfield served on lobbyists in the state capitol.  Great photos, too.

Questions on recycling and privatization http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/questions-on-recycling-and-privatization/ Sun, 02 Oct 2011 18:57:02 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4777 With a pilot privatized recycling program set to launch Monday, the Chicago Recycling Coalition is concerned that residents haven’t been fully informed about changes in the program – and that “managed competition” with city workers will be fair and transparent.

“The first weeks could be a little bumpy,” said Mike Nowak of CRC.  Residents could be confused by possible schedule changes and may not understand if their recyclables are rejected due to contamination under a contract provision with private haulers, he said.

“The key to making this work is education,” he said.  “You can’t just surprise people with this.”

He said the city is sending informational mailings to residents, but he wishes that had been done earlier.

The notification postcards (posted on CRC’s site) give only general schedules and no information on rejection of contaminated loads.

“The key to success is whether people actually participate,” said Nowak. “Many residents grew very cynical” about the city’s recycling effort under the initial blue bag program, he said.

One of the private haulers recently awarded a contract by the city is Waste Management, the company that helped design the blue bag program, which never managed to recycle even 10 percent of the materials collected, Nowak said.  “Those are the people who ran the blue bag program into the ground,” he said.

Now private haulers will be able to reject recycling loads as contaminated simply by slapping stickers on blue carts.  The city will be required to pick up the loads.

“There’s always a concern about what is getting recycled and what isn’t,” said Nowak.  “There needs to be transparency and accountability,” he said, noting that residents with complaints will be directed to call 311.  “We’ll see how that works,” he said.

Yet to be addressed are shortfalls in recycling at larger residential buildings.

CRC is also concerned about “managed competition” between city workers and private haulers.  “We hope it will be a fair competition” and that city workers aren’t at a disadvantaged because they’re better paid, Nowak said.

“We don’t want to have recycling pickup at the cost of decent wages for people,” he said.  “We don’t want it done on the backs of workers.”

The city currently provides blue cart recycling pickup to about a third of the city’s households outside of larger buildings.  Starting Monday those areas will be divided into zones served by Waste Management, Metal Management Midwest, and city workers.

After six months the performance of the competing groups will be evaluated prior to recycling pickup being rolled out to the entire city.

One union representing city workers is optimistic that it will come out ahead.  “We think we’re going to be very competitive,” said Lou Phillips of Laborers Local 1001.  (Other labor leaders told the Tribune they beleve the Emanuel administration is already committed to privatization.)

Phillips points out that in areas served by city workers, the city will get revenues from the sale of recyclables, which he said the city recently estimated at $3.5 million a year citywide.  In areas served by private haulers, the companies will get that revenue.

In that sense, contracting out recycling resembles the controversial 2008 parking meter deal by privatizing a revenue stream.

Mayor Emanuel is said to be privately opposing an ordinance that would require public hearings and an independent evaluation of such deals.


An earlier version misquoted Mike Nowak regarding Waste Management’s record in the blue bag program.  We regret the error and apologize to Mr. Nowak.