State Leaders Celebrate
Indeed, we are making progress. My Administration has acted to protect thousands of acres of precious natural areas, and the state has acquired some of the most significant parcels of land existing in Illinois.
We have involved the public in developing long-term programs for our environment and acted swiftly to make the system for environmental protection work better.
Fines and penalties collected from environmental law violators during the past four years have skyrocketed, and cases are being more aggressively pursued in the courts.
Four years ago, I said one of our biggest challenges would be addressing solid waste problems. We have worked hard to encourage recycling and pollution prevention. I'm proud to say the amount of material going into landfills has gone down each and every year I have been Governor. We have banned many items from landfills such as yard waste, scrap tires, lead-acid batteries, waste oil and white goods such as refrigerators and stoves.
During my tenure, the number of Illinois residents served by curbside recycling has increased from 2 million to 6 million residents, and more than 400 programs are in place throughout the state.
I believe it is important for state government to set an example. We are doing that by purchasing more recycled products and recycling items such as motor oil, anti-freeze, tires, paper and ink cartridges.
Over the last four years, we have seen increasing interest in pollution prevention programs, and I believe we will continue to see that interest grow as businesses see that these efforts help their bottom line.
As we have strived to reduce waste and control pollution, we have also tried to inject long-term vision into our natural resource planning efforts.
I proposed Conservation 2000, an ambitious, six-year, $100 million program to protect Illinois natural resources. It is my hope the Legislature will approve this initiative this spring and help take natural resource protection into the 21st century.
In my 1995 Budget Address, I proposed that we consolidate the Department of Conservation, the Department of Transportation's Division of Water Resources, the Department of Mines and Minerals, the Abandoned Mined Lands Reclamation Council and many functions currently within the Department of Energy and Natural Resources into a new agency to be known as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
This move will end the fragmented approach to managing our air, land and water. It will allow for a better focus of our limited dollars on the most critical natural resource stewardship needs. And this coordinated approach will allow us to build on the successes of my first term.
During my Administration, we have acquired more than 22,000 acres for wildlife habitat and recreation, including Site M in central Illinois, the Lowden-Miller State Forest and Redwing Slough in northern Illinois and additional acreage in the Cache River area of southern Illinois.
More than 3,000 acres have been designated as natural areas, and nearly 90 nature preserves were dedicated or expanded—a faster rate than during any other four-year term.
Land acquisition is important, and there is one significant gem we continue to work toward—the Joliet Arsenal—a rare opportunity to obtain 19,000 acres of open space in a region of 8.5 million people. I am committed to doing all I can to make the Arsenal available for public use.
During the last four years, we have funded work associated with nearly 900 miles of new bike paths and trails in Illinois.
We have planted nearly 2,000 acres of prairie grasses and wild flowers along Illinois roads.
We have spent nearly $25 million in dedicated state funds
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to acquire and develop community parks and recreation areas. In partnership with local park districts, nearly 6,300 acres of open space have been acquired or improved for the enjoyment of Illinoisans around the state.
We have also established the Habitat Endowment Trust Fund to pay for future habitat acquisitions. We created the Illinois Conservation Foundation to accept private contributions for habitat enhancement and protection. Also, the popular new environmental license plates are providing new funds to help our state parks.
During my second term, I will continue to put a high priority on environmental and conservation programs.
We know that protection of the biodiversity in our rivers, along our river banks and within our watersheds is a necessity. We will target programs that will help us understand the complex environments in our river and stream corridors.
We will devote even greater attention to pollution prevention during my second term.
We will redouble our efforts to prevent toxic substances from being released into our environment.
Bike paths and trails will continue to grow, and we will link together many of our trail systems.
We must continue to aid the important work of the local park districts, who provide necessary close-to-home recreation for their residents.
As stewards of Illinois' natural resources, state government has a responsibility to preserve for future generations the heritage with which it has been entrusted. We have a duty to take a long range view in managing our natural resources. We must plan for tomorrow, today.
I am excited about what we can accomplish in the next four years to make sure that Illinois remains a place we are all proud to call our home. •
As we observe the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, I'm pleased to say those days are gone and we accomplished much in our first four years together—by design, not by accident. The natural resources community stands united in its efforts to work together to achieve long-term goals. Together, we have found the vision, the courage and the determination to act for the betterment of the community in which we live.
Governor Edgar set the tone. He strongly believes, as do I, that there isn't a challenge we can't meet as long as we talk to each other and face it together.
Through Conservation Congress, together we have helped chart a course for the future of Illinois' natural resources. We have overcome budget shortfalls that tested our ability to fulfill our mission of natural resource protection and outdoor recreation. We have created many new programs focusing on the environment—the Conservation Foundation, the environmental license plate to fund state parks, the habitat endowment fund and Fish Illinois. We have acquired some very significant parcels of land, including Red Wing Slough, the Lowden-Miller Forest, Site M and the Cache River area, and we have increased recreational opportunities available to residents in their own communities.
Together we have developed a strategic plan for the natural resources and improved interagency communication and cooperation.
We have made a dramatic impact on the landscape. The Governor, the Legislature and leaders from around this state and nation have taken note of and given accolades for our accomplishments.
We are about to enter a new phase of our partnership as the several agencies are merging into a Department of Natural Resources. Many challenges still face us, but we will be tackling them more united than ever. Our team and our mission have not changed—but our opportunities are broadening.
As this new department becomes a reality, I am hopeful that Conservation 2000 will become a reality. The focus of this six-year initiative will be to develop a comprehensive law covering the state's water resources, establish a system of large ecological reserves—as in the Rock River area—conserve soil and water resources, develop a comprehensive network of greenways and continue long-range natural resources planning.
Acquiring the Joliet Arsenal property is another critical challenge we face. We cannot allow the more than 19,000 acres in recreational lands so close to our largest urban center to fall prey to development.
I look forward to the challenges that face us. Together we can ensure our air, land and water are protected—now and for generations to come. •
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We have cleaned up acres upon acres of polluted lands by imposing strict regulations on the disposal of waste. Our waterways no longer run gray with pollution thanks to 25 years of enforcing laws protecting our lakes, rivers and streams. The air we breathe is no longer heavy with dust, soot, lead and high levels of other pollutants.
We have been very successful in our efforts. But changing times demand changing strategies. The prescriptive, "command and control" approach of the past is no longer the optimum means of addressing environmental concerns.
To meet the environmental challenges of today and the future, we can achieve far more by working in cooperation with business and environmental groups—the stakeholders of environmental protection. Now, more than ever, the Agency is reaching out to these groups to address issues of environmental concern. Many companies that decades ago were averse to pollution control today welcome the advantages of environmental responsibility and pollution prevention.
The page that is turning in environmental protection is giving way to cooperation and partnerships. Through this cooperative spirit, all of the stakeholders have a voice in how we can best protect our precious and limited resources.
As we embark on the next 25 years of environmental protection, this agency looks forward to continuing and expanding those partnerships. The environmental challenges ahead of us require a cooperative spirit clearly focused on the bottom line: environmental protection. Collectively, we can achieve far more than we could ever hope to achieve individually. •
The greatest challenge for the future is to introduce, through environmental education, the environmental ethic into all walks of life: the family, the school, the factory, the office, and the campus. Only when we, as a community, accept this ethic as a matter of course in our everyday lives—only then will we gain a decisive upper hand in the fight against pollution. •
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Signs of our progress are all around us: discharge pipes have been capped, stack emissions scrubbed, car exhausts catalyzed, trees planted, bicycle trails opened, species protected, nature preserves created, dumps closed, recycling established. The public expects government officials to act responsibly to protect the environment, to do for citizens what they cannot do for themselves. They are encouraged by such recent initiatives as the state's commitment to preserving the Joliet Arsenal as public open space and creating a comprehensive natural resource agency.
We have reason to celebrate Earth Day XXV, yet the truth is that we cannot afford to be complacent about our progress or permit Earth Day to become a mere public relations event. While some aspects of the environment are much improved, others decline. The struggle remains difficult, at least in part, because many stubborn problems are very hard to see—invisible yet persistent chemical pollutants, for example; "natural" green habitats that are in fact choked with nonnative species. Meanwhile, a well-organized and well-financed national movement is seeking, with some success, to roll back 25 years of environmental regulations in the name of private property rights and "wise use" of resources—in reality, resource exploitation clothed in basic greed.
If the air and water are cleaner today, it is largely because they were so poor in 1970 that resources were heavily targeted toward remedies, and specific pollutants in specific mediums came under control. But seen from the broad ecological perspective, the environment is in trouble. Here is a sobering passage from an important 1994 report commissioned by Governor Edgar to analyze the changing Illinois environment, the Critical Trends Assessment:
Habitat fragmentation and other physical changes have surpassed conventional pollution as threats to ecosystem functioning. Even though pollution is being reduced in Illinois, most of the state's natural systems have not responded with anything like their former vitality, and the burdening of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide since industrialization may affect the climate for decades to come.
Seven volumes of technical information support these and other findings. The study demands follow-up. A major challenge for government officials and grassroots citizens, working in coalition, will be to use the findings on critical trends, along with the recommendations of the Governor's Task Force on Water Resources and Land Use Priorities and the resolutions of the Conservation Congress, to craft a strategy for Illinois. What is it we need to do to ensure the environment we want for Illinois in the 21st century? Will its plant and animal species be diverse? Will its agriculture be sustainable? Will its waters be drinkable? Will its cities be livable?
And what will we say as we observe the 35th Earth Day? The 50th? The answer depends on what we commit to doing now. My hope is that we can declare, "In the 1990s we became serious about preventing pollution, reducing waste, ensuring biodiversity. We heeded our scientists. We tempered our obsession with commerce and convenience. We made the hard choices necessary to protect our posterity, and our children will thank us." •
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