In a move that could lead to dirtier air in Chicago and other downwind communities as far away as New York, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is pushing to overhaul stringent limits on lung-damaging pollution from some of the last coal-fired power plants in Illinois.
Proposed amendments to state rules would scrap limits on the rate of pollution from a fleet of eight coal plants in central and southern Illinois owned by Dynegy Inc. Instead, the state would impose annual caps on tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted by the fleet — a subtle but significant change that could stall or reverse efforts to reduce Dynegy’s contributions to smog, soot and acid rain.
Drafted with extensive input from the company’s Chicago-based attorneys, the proposed pollution caps are significantly higher than what Dynegy’s fleet emitted during each of the past two years, according to a Tribune analysis of federal pollution data.
Alec Messina, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said the goal is to keep the financially struggling coal plants open by giving Houston-based Dynegy more flexibility to operate individual generating units, several of which are not equipped with modern pollution controls. Before joining the Rauner administration, Messina worked as a lobbyist for a trade group that represents the company’s interests in Illinois. […]
None of the Dynegy plants burns Illinois coal; the company ships its fuel by train from Wyoming mines that produce coal with a lower sulfur content. But the company employs about 1,000 people in Illinois and the power plants contribute to the tax base of local communities, making their survival a potent campaign issue as Rauner seeks re-election next year.
* The story has prompted a couple of campaign responses. Here’s Ameya Pawar…
“For too long, politicians have allowed major corporations and powerful special interests to exert control over our government, to the point of allowing companies to rewrite laws that serve their own self-interests. Gov. Rauner is continuing that tradition by allowing Dynegy to rewrite environmental regulations to benefit the coal giant at the expense of public health and the environment. As governor, I’ll stand up to the political insiders, special interests and corporations who put profits over people and will fight to protect our environment and improve people’s lives in our state.”
Illinois has the opportunity to lead the country in the fight against climate change and the creation of a 21st century economy. Pawar believes a commitment to environmental sustainability is the best path to economic prosperity and quality jobs that cannot be automated or shipped overseas. Through statewide green initiatives, protections and policies, we can revitalize our economy, create 21st century jobs, improve quality of life, and protect our future.
The coal industry doesn’t employ enough Illinois residents to justify preferential treatment in our energy mix. These plants increase asthma and local air pollution, damaging the health of our communities. Over the next 18 years, we should make a commitment to replace all that dirty power with renewable energy. Wind and solar energy are approaching grid parity in many areas, and the economics of those projects will continue to improve if we make long term commitments and deploy these technologies around the state. We can accelerate the pace of renewable integration by harnessing local installation expertise, lower the barriers to permitting and grid integration, and make an investment in our energy future.
* Sen. Daniel Biss…
“With this revelation, Bruce Rauner has proven himself an ally to those who seek to pollute our ecosystem, as well as our political system. He’s allowed coal company lobbyists to rewrite their industry’s own regulations, endangering the health of generations of Illinoisans and threatening the land on which we all live in exchange for continued political support. As Rauner once again chooses billionaires over working families, he’s confirming who he represents in the Governor’s mansion, and it isn’t the rest of us. Too bad for Bruce, it is the rest of us who get to decide who belongs in the governor’s mansion, how we run our state, and whether we will fight for a clean environment for generations to come.”
…Adding… Kennedy campaign…
Governor Rauner’s Illinois EPA has become a lackey for coal industry executives who are more driven by profits than by a belief in innovation and progress. The IEPA agreed to change a provision concerning pollution caps to allow coal companies to close plants with more pollution control equipment and replace them with cheaper, dirtier plants that tend to be more profitable. This change alone is an abdication of responsibility by the IEPA, and it is a deplorable sacrifice of the public good in order to increase the profit margins for Rauner’s big business allies.
We cannot allow the standards that protect the environment and our families’ health to be hijacked by company executives behind closed doors. We need open and frank discussions about how to overcome our environmental and economic challenges.
…Adding More… Press release…
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition issued the following statement today in the wake of a report published today by the Chicago Tribune detailing a proposed rule change being drafted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency:
“After having worked for more than two years in an open, transparent process to pass historic clean energy legislation, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is deeply disappointed to learn of backroom negotiations taking place between Gov. Rauner’s political appointees at the Illinois EPA and Houston-based Dynegy Inc., which would result in massive new air pollution for the state of Illinois and beyond. We are especially dismayed by this turn of events given that Gov. Rauner less than a year ago signed into law the Future Energy Jobs Act, a bill which brings cleaner air and better health to people across the state, and in particular will deliver groundbreaking investments in clean energy development to central and southern Illinois. Instead of advancing real, long-term economic solutions for Illinois communities and protecting public health, the Rauner administration appears to be re-writing critical rules to help an out-of-state company pad its profits while polluting our air.”
…Adding Even More… JB Pritzker tweeted this out today…
Instead of working to protect our environment, @GovRauner is showing his loyalty to his special interest friends.
By making an inside deal with an out-of-state polluter, Rauner makes it clear that special interests take priority over our state.
We need a governor who puts Illinoisans first, and that’s exactly what I’ll do in Springfield.
* Meanwhile, let’s set the Wayback Machine to March of 2015…
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s bid to dig the state out of its financial hole could strip a program designed to boost Illinois coal production.
As part of the Republican governor’s spending proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the Office of Coal Marketing and Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity would be reduced from eight employees to zero.