Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Supports IL Pollution Lawsuit Against VW, Says Everyone is Harmed

The Chicago Tribune

Illinois forcing Volkswagen to clean up its act

Nov. 14, 2016
By Robert Reed

Even those who never owned a Volkswagen car could benefit from the beleaguered company’s desperate need to make “dieselgate,” a moniker for its massive auto emissions scandal, fade in the rearview mirror.

But that’s not going to happen until the German automaker makes peace with Illinois and a bunch of other ticked-off states suing the company for allegedly fouling the environment.

Some may see these lawsuits as blatantly trying to squeeze extra cash from a staggering Volkswagen, which admitted using software designed to cheat on emissions testing. I’d disagree, mainly because no automaker, or company for that matter, should go unchallenged for allegedly violating a bedrock environmental law in such an admittedly blatant manner. It’s not fair to the public or to other businesses that must follow the rules.

This week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan smacked Volkswagen with a lawsuit claiming the automaker violated the state’s pollution protection rules. Madigan’s office wants the company to pay some form of damages, as do 11 other states also suing Volkswagen on similar grounds.

The legal fallout is linked to the company’s admission last year that about 500,000 of its VWs and Audis with 2-liter, four-cylinder diesel engines were programmed to cheat on government emissions tests. Since then, Volkswagen’s focus has been on making amends with its disgusted car buyers, settling with irate consumer fraud regulators and quelling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Now the saga is entering a new chapter: Volkswagen is dealing with states saying the very air their communities breathe was compromised by the emissions-rigging scheme.

“Not only were consumers harmed by buying cars that were less than advertised; the public as a whole has suffered because there’s more pollution,” says Howard Learner , executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based watchdog and advocacy group.

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Illinois Times: ELPC’s Learner Says Federal Court Ruling on Illiana Should Finally End Proposed Toll Road

Illinois-Times-Logo

End of the Road for Illiana?
Controversial Toll Road Loses Second Court Battle
November 10, 2016
By Patrick Yeagle

A federal court struck down last week an environmental study used to justify a new tollway in northern Illinois.

It’s the second such loss in court for the controversial project, which was already suspended but still clings to life.

The Illiana Expressway is a proposed 50-mile, east-west toll road which would connect Interstate 55 south of Chicago to Interstate 65 in northwestern Indiana. The project is intended to relieve congestion on Interstate 80, 15 miles to the north.

Controversial from the start, the Illiana proposal has long been a priority for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Gov. Bruce Rauner says Illinois won’t spend more money on the project, but opponents say IDOT has continued to pursue it anyway.

The controversy is twofold: whether the road is actually needed and what effect it may have on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a nearby national nature preserve.

IDOT has projected population growth of more than 170 percent by 2040 in the area surrounding the proposed road, but that estimate is contradicted by two other planning agencies which control federal funding in that area.

Meanwhile, the potential environmental effect of the project was the basis for a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Midewin Heritage Association, the Illinois Sierra Club and environmental group Openlands. The groups sued IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, saying the required environmental impact statement used to justify the project was flawed.

A federal court agreed in June 2015, ruling that the study overestimated the consequences of not building the expressway and failed to adequately consider the potential effects on the surrounding area.

While that lawsuit was pending, IDOT and the FHA continued pursuing the project, releasing a second “tier” of the environmental study which built on the first. On Oct. 31, another federal judge ruled that the second tier was invalid because it relied on a first tier which had already been found faulty.

Just before the first federal court decision in June 2015, Rauner vetoed funding for the project, saying that because of the “current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources, the Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time.” A spokeswoman for Rauner referred a reporter to IDOT.

Still, IDOT continued to defend the environmental study in court, filing a document in October 2015 saying IDOT and its counterpart in Indiana would continue to revise the study.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, calls Illiana a “fiscal folly” which should have died long ago. ELPC represented the environmental groups for free in the lawsuit against the state.

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Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Says We Need President Who Will Reduce Air Pollution

Daily HeraldWhere Trump, Clinton Stand on the Environment

November 5, 2016
By Marni Pyke

Despite headlines about lead in Michigan drinking water, the environment hasn’t made much noise in the presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump and that’s unfortunate, local experts think.

Chicago and the suburbs need a president who will reduce air pollution, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“Air quality is getting better but we have a way to go because pollution doesn’t just stay within municipal boundaries,” he said.

Collins, an environmental attorney from Naperville, said aging pipes are a source of water pollution in the region.

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NW Indiana Times: Illiana Continues on Slow Road Through Courts

nwi times

Illiana Continues on Slow Road Through Courts
November 4, 2016
By Andrew Steele

The Illiana Expressway’s lingering presence continued this week with a court ruling affirming that federal approval of the project was based on a flawed and invalid environmental study.

But the decision by Judge Charles Norgle of the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois leaves open the opportunity for the Indiana and Illinois departments of transportation to revise their environmental studies and continue pursuing the project.

The lawsuit was brought by the environmental groups Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club. They asked the court to declare the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Illiana project’s Tier 2 environmental impact statement to be in violation of federal law. Approval of the Tier 2 EIS is the final step allowing a project to move forward.

But Norgle dismissed the case as moot, because the Tier 2 study was based on a Tier 1 study a federal court found to be flawed last year.

In that separate Tier 1 case, Judge Jorge Alonso ruled that the environmental assessment did not adequately consider the implications of not building the Illiana. Such a “no build” alternative is required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

And because the Tier 2 study “relied upon the invalid Tier 1 approvals,” Norgle wrote in his ruling this week, the plaintiffs’ success in the Tier 1 case “moots this (Tier 2 ) case.”

“To hear the Tier 2 case predicated on the uncompleted Tier 1,” Norgle wrote, “is akin to a farmer concerning himself with the quantity of chicken feed to purchase before the eggs have hatched.”

The Illiana Expressway would operate as a toll road stretching about 50 miles from Interstate 65 near Lowell to Interstate 55 in Illinois.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner halted the project in 2014 amidst that state’s budget crisis. The Illinois Department of Transportation still considers the Illiana project “suspended,” a spokeswoman said earlier this month.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has taken on the responsibility of revising the Tier 1 EIS. An INDOT spokesman said Thursday that the agency expects to complete work by the end of the year, “allowing the project to remain on hold in ready status.”

But the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which represents the three plaintiffs, claim the ruling should end the Illiana project “once and for all.”

In a press release, the ELPC noted that Norgle’s ruling states that the Tier 2 EIS is “no longer effective.”

“Federal judges have now twice found the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway to be invalid and illegal,” said Howard Learner, the lead attorney and executive director of the ELPC.

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Chicago Tribune: Latest Illiana Tollway Federal Court Ruling Helps Further Unwind Project

Chicago Tribune

Environmental Groups Happy with Judge’s Ruling on Illiana Tollway Project

By Zak Koeske

vironmental groups that oppose construction of the Illiana Tollway are celebrating a second federal court judge’s ruling that the Federal Highway Administration’s 2014 approval of the bi-state project was invalid.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle found Tuesday that portions of the project’s proposal that relied on its already legally invalidated foundation also were invalid.

The environmental plaintiffs — Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club Illinois — had challenged both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental impact statements and the federal government’s “records of decision” greenlighting the 47-mile highway project through Will County.

The U.S., Illinois and Indiana transportation departments were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Last June, a federal court judge ruled that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Tier 1 portion of the project, which looked at broad issues like the location, mode choice and area-wide environmental impact of the alternatives under consideration, was “arbitrary and capricious,” and in violation of U.S. environmental law.

Norgle’s decision Tuesday found that the prior federal approval of the Tier 2 statement, which relied upon the invalidated Tier 1 statement, must also be invalid and was thus “no longer effective.”

“The federal district court has now twice ruled in favor of the environmental plaintiffs that the Tier 1 and the Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statements are legally invalid,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which challenged the tollway project in court on behalf of the environmental plaintiffs.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court

Crain’s Chicago Business

Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court

GREG HINZ ON POLITICS

A federal judge has stuck another knife into the just-barely-alive proposed Illiana Corridor.

In a decision released Nov. 1. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle used terms such as “invalid” and “no longer effective” to describe a Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement prepared on behalf of the project by the Illinois Department of Transportation and its Indiana counterpart.

IDOT had hoped to forestall a ruling. But Norgle held the EIS no longer is valid because of prior court action, so there is no controversy to consider.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and chief attorney for the groups that oppose putting a tollway between Interstate 55 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana, hailed the decision as one more nail in the Iliana’s coffin.

The ruling means IDOT and the Indiana agency “must start over their environmental reviews from the beginning based on much more realistic data and do it right without impermissible shortcuts,” he said. That will take time and money, and if done right, “would very likely show that the proposed costly Illiana toll way is not economically justified and is not environmentally sensible.”

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ABC 7 News: Learner says Chicago Vehicle Emission Testing Site Closures Make No Sense

ABC 7 Eyewitness News

Chicago Now Left Without Any Emissions Testing Facilities
By Evelyn Holmes

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

CHICAGO (WLS) — Many Chicago drivers are being inconvenienced by the closing of the last two Illinois emissions testing facilities in Chicago.

Tuesday was the first day that car owners in the city have to travel to the suburbs for the test.

Aida Oqunido found out the hard way – that the vehicle emissions testing center is now closed for good.

“It’s not right. We have to go a long way to find another one,” she said.

The location is one of four vehicle emissions testing facilities shuttered by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to save millions by cutting costs by using a private contractor to run the testing program.

“I think (there) should be at least one location in the city,” said Michael Weissbluth.

The Webster Avenue facility and Forest Preserve Drive locations were the last two testing facilities in the city, leaving Chicago drivers without a city testing station.

WATCH NEWS CLIP:

Chicago Tonight: ELPC’s Learner says Chicago shutdown of vehicle emissions testing sites “defies common sense”

Chicago Tonight

EPA to Shut Down 2 Chicago Vehicle Emissions Test Facilities
By Reuben Unrau

October 21, 2016

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will close two vehicle emissions testing facilities in Chicago, leaving motorists without a single testing center within city limits starting Nov. 1.

The decision, announced by the agency Wednesday, comes as a result of a new testing contract that aims to cut costs.

Test sites at 1850 W. Webster Ave. in Bucktown and 6959 W. Forest Preserve Drive in Harwood Heights will shutter by the end of the month. The EPA also announced the closure of suburban facilities in Elk Grove Village and Tinley Park.

Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois EPA, says motorists will not have to travel more than 12 miles to reach a testing station, which is required by state statute. In a press release, the EPA says Chicago-area drivers will have to commute an additional four miles, on average, starting in November.

“Motorists may have a different drive, but this new contract will provide significant cost savings in Illinois,” Biggs said.

The contract will save Illinois taxpayers around $11 million per year and an estimated $100 million over the next 10 years, according to the Illinois EPA. The move also includes measures that are designed to increase efficiency: Testing centers will have extended hours on Saturdays and each location (with the exception of the site in Schaumburg) will be equipped with high-capacity, two-lane facilities to help accommodate the expected increase in demand. Motorists will also be able to request extensions or exemptions from the testing requirement online.

Despite the savings, opponents fear the Chicago closures will create a burden on motorists in the state’s largest city. Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the decision is “tone deaf and defies common sense.”

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Midwest Energy News: New Solar Rules in Illinois

Midwest-Energy-News-Logo
October 19, 2016
In Illinois, New Rules Expected to Make Solar Faster and Cheaper
By Kari Lydersen

Illinois lawmakers have adopted new interconnection standards that will make the solar siting and installation process significantly quicker and cheaper, clean energy advocates and utilities say.

The Illinois state standards, adopted Oct. 11, are based on a rule establishing best practices that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) adopted in late 2013. The standards are being held up as a model for other states, including Iowa and Minnesota, which are currently going through interconnection rule-making processes.

Interconnection is the process of making sure that a new solar installation won’t cause problems on the grid, including studying the infrastructure and typical supply and demand on that section of the grid and installing any equipment needed to moderate energy flow. In some states where large amounts of solar power were added to the grid quickly, including Hawaii, California and Massachusetts, backlogs in the interconnection process caused headaches for utilities, developers and customers hoping to install solar.

The concentration of solar energy is still relatively low in Illinois, and solar advocates say it is important that Illinois has adopted forward-thinking interconnection standards so that it will be ready as — solar advocates hope — increasing amounts of solar are proposed.

“Illinois is the first through the gate” with the new standards in the Midwest, said Brad Klein, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which took the lead on the Illinois standards along with the Citizens Utility Board.

“But there’s a real trend to adopt these best practices, and we in the Midwest are doing a good job of being prepared. We’re looking to states that have actually experienced high volumes of solar, they’ve had to be ahead of us because of the state of the market. We’re doing a good job in taking those lessons and applying them here so we’re prepared and ready.”

Read More Here: http://midwestenergynews.com/2016/10/19/in-illinois-new-rules-expected-to-make-solar-faster-and-cheaper/

Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Says Closing Chicago Vehicle Emission Testing Sites is a Bad Idea

ChicagoTribune
October 19, 2016
Chicago Will Have No Vehicle Emissions Test Facilities After State Closures
By Robert Duffer

Four vehicle emissions testing facilities, including the last two in the city of Chicago, are being shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 1 to reduce costs and streamline operations.

Closures of the testing stations at 1850 W. Webster Ave. and 6959 W. Forest Preserve Drive leave Chicago motorists without a city testing facility. The nearest locations will be in Skokie, Addison and Bedford Park. The other two locations being closed are in Tinley Park and Elk Grove.

“For the state to decide there will be no inspection in the city of Chicago, in the largest city in the state, third largest city in the country, and expect the same level of quality, it makes no common sense,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental advocacy group.

Many Chicagoans, including city officials, were surprised by the closings.

“It’s news to me,” said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“This short-sighted move would place a significant burden on Chicago motor vehicle owners and force them to drive outside the city limits for required environmental tests, exacerbating the problem emissions testing is designed to protect against,” he added.

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