The state’s recent legislative session brought about environmental
successes from Cook County’s landfill-expansion ban to dry cleaning
chemical restrictions, but environmental advocates in the General
Assembly and members of the Environmental Law and Policy Center say more work is still needed to protect Illinois.
State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and State Reps. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines), Michael Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) and Michael Zalewski (D-Summit) met Tuesday afternoon at the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s office, located at 35 E. Wacker Dr., to recap what did — and didn’t happen — in Springfield this past legislative session.
Despite budget woes and other challenges,
it was “a pretty good legislative session” for environmental advocates,
said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and
“There weren’t what I’d call home runs, but there were a heck of a lot of singles and doubles and triples,” Learner said to the room of advocates. “Amongst the gloom and doom and the challenges the state faces, it’s a pretty good set of progress in terms of environmental issues and natural resources.”
The highlight of Tuesday’s meeting was Zalewski’s approved measure that curtails the release of harmful perchloroethylene “perc” pollutants, commonly used during the dry cleaning process, into the state’s water supply.
Other successes include Chicago and Cook County’s landfill-expansion ban, updates to the state’s energy efficiency building code and fixes to the net metering, renewable energy program.
Tryon, who owns a drinking water and wastewater-testing lab in Mchenry, helped pass the Clean Water Funding Fairness Act, which requires a pollution-discharge permit for large animal feeding operations.
“Last year when we started that bill, I would have said that there would be no way we’d get the (agriculture) industry to the table for an agreed bill, but it happened,” Tryon said. “It happened because of a lot hard work put in on both sides.
Nekritz mentioned the state’s transportation victories.
Illinois’ high-speed rail line is in its execution phase, and it’s “getting there,” she said.
“It’s fun to watch the rail issues move ahead right now, mostly because we have nothing to do in the General Assembly except watch it be executed, which is a great place to be,” she said.
In a few months, Illinois will have a short stretch of track that can be used, she said.
However, Nekritz added, there’s still a lot to do as a region to bolster some surrounding states to come on board.
“I remain optimistic that with the work Michigan, Illinois and Missouri are doing that we can cobble enough together to really showcase it, and then folks in Wisconsin might wake up and say, ‘Hey I’d like that in my state,’ and would push the elected officials to move ahead on that,” she said.
In addition to high-speed rail, Learner said there’s still some unfinished business.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas was a hot issue, which received considerations but didn’t get resolved by the end of the session, he said.
Nekritz said the General Assembly needs a lot more environmental champions, but that could change come by fall.
“There is a huge amount of turnover, so it’s kind of scary on one hand, but it’s definitely and opportunity on the other hand,” Nekritz said.
She said the environmental community has “a lot of education to do with these folks.”
We’re all going to have to work together with those new members to make sure that they are up to speed and caring about our issues,” Nekritz said.