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Legislative Action Special Section

The eclipse of Earth Day


Environmentalists were hoping that Earth Day would encourage Illinois legislators to "think green." But the environment, like other thorny issues, was overshadowed in the General Assembly this spring by election-year politics and budget wrangling.

Environmental advocates use terms like "dismal" and "frustrating" to describe the session. Almost two-thirds of the 90 bills in the House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources were not given a hearing. Committee Chairman Myron Kulas (D-10, Chicago) defends bottling up the bills by saying that they did not deal with emergencies and that there was no money to fund them. His action also gave lawmakers a break. Kulas says legislators would have been "voting on issues that make enemies no matter how they vote."

"To lose because you didn't even get a hearing, that's fairly stunning," said Joe Schwartz, legislative liaison for the Illinois Environmental Council. He says he had hoped to use those bills to "lay the groundwork" for major environmental issues. Because many of those bills were never heard, environmental advocates will have to start over to educate legislators about the issues, Schwartz says.

Lawmakers passed a handful of environmental bills including measures that would: require mandatory recycling for newspapers; establish an 18-month moratorium on building hazardous waste incinerators; and expand auto emissions testing. Major issues such as landfill siting and waste reduction were put off.

Businesses and environmentalists universally opposed Gov. James R. Thompson's proposed $536 million environmental package to be funded by higher solid waste disposal fees and a new fee for storing hazardous chemicals. The additional fees would have been used to help build new landfills and incinerators. Business sees the real problem as siting landfills not paying for them, says Sid Marder, environmental consultant for the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce. Environmentalists opposed the incinerators which they say are costly and release toxic materials into the air.

Among the bills to get the nod from both houses was S.B. 2253, a measure that would, if signed, require state agencies to adopt waste reduction programs. The bill also gives the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency authority to develop specific standards for municipal incinerator emissions. And it sets a $1.05 per ton tipping fee for incinerator disposal. The money would fund education programs on recycling and pay for hazardous waste collection in communities served by incinerators.

Other bills passed by lawmakers and awaiting gubernatorial action August 16 include:

  H.B. 3426, which calls for an 18-month moratorium on the construction of any hazardous waste incinerators, unless they are to be used in conjunction with a state or federal clean-up project. The bill was specifically aimed at blocking the construction of the Sun Chemical hazardous waste incinerator in the Cook County village of Bedford Park.

  H.B. 3183, which requires that newspapers by January 1, 1991, contain at least an annual average of 22 percent of recycled fiber. By 1992 that would increase to 25 percent and by the end of 1993 to 28 percent. There are no penalties in the first two years, but newspapers not meeting the 28 percent goal by the end of 1993 may be fined up to $1,000.

   S.B. 2150, which calls for automobile emission testing in the six-county metropolitan area surrounding Chicago. A House-Senate GOP battle ensued over exemptions proposed by House Minority Leader Lee A. Daniels (R-46, Elmhurst). Daniels wanted to exempt rural areas in Lake, Kane and Will counties from the vehicle testing. Sen. Minority Leader James "Pate" Philip (R-23, Wood Dale) originally pushed to exempt only McHenry County but conceded the issue rather than extend the session.

The new program is an expansion of the one in Cook County and urban sections of DuPage and Lake counties, but a reduction of vehicles covered. Rather than check all vehicles annually, the new program has cars checked when three-, five- and seven-years-old and annually thereafter. The tests will include new checks for under-the-hood tampering. The new emissions program would be in effect until December 31, 1996; the current one is set to expire December 31, 1991. The spur for expansion was the threatened loss of $350 million in federal highway funds for non-compliance with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order to cut ozone levels in the Chicago area.

The issue of storage fees for toxic chemicals may come up during the fall veto session. S.B. 1870, which passed the Senate, would charge businesses a fee for storing more than 10,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals. The fees would be used to clean up 89 hazardous waste sites in Illinois that do not qualify for the federal Superfund program. The bill was derailed in the House and placed in a conference committee to be heard in November. The Illinois Farm Burueau opposed the bill because no dollars are designated for cleaning up unused farm chemicals. Considerable criticism was dumped on another provision that would allow the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to cleanup a site and later demand repayment from the owner. Opponents said it would not be fair to any businesses that may already be in the process of cleaning up.

Another environmental issue that could reappear in the fall is the protection of wetlands. H.B. 3705 would give the Illinois Department of Conservation authority to regulate construction projects that could damage wetlands. The committee hearing deadline was extended to November.

Landfill siting and recycling remain on the unfinished agenda. Two task forces of environmental, government and industry representatives worked on those issues for about a year; neither group reached consensus. The issues will be back, with lawmakers searching for answers to the questions of who should site landfills and how state government can limit what is put into local landfills.

54/August & September 1990/Illinois Issues

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