With a pandemic-shortened legislative spring session in the midst of a primary election season, environmental groups say they had little expectations for the number of environmental bills that could pass this year.
Still, 15 bills aiming to protect and promote the environment gained support in the General Assembly and await signature from the governor, said Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council.
Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat and chair of the environment and conservation committee, said in an interview this week that Earth Day is a good time to reflect on legislative efforts involving the environment.
“Earth Day is a day to really remind us that we are stewards of this planet. And if we don’t take care of it, no one else will,” Bush said.
Walling said one particularly important piece of legislation was House Bill 1780, which requires pharmaceutical companies to pay for the proper disposal of prescription drugs, she said.
House Bill 1780, which requires pharmaceutical companies to pay for the proper disposal of prescription drugs.
“Prescription drugs are not only a problem for the environment, because they are dangerous to wildlife and water,” Walling said. “They’re also a problem in our homes, with children and others having access to prescription drugs they shouldn’t take.”
Walling said that without proper disposal, these drugs can contribute to the opioid crisis.
Environmental groups also supported a bill allowing for school districts to select school meals from vendors using locally grown foods. Walling said Illinois is one of two states that requires schools to choose the lowest bid when it comes to food vendors, sometimes resulting in inferior meals.
“Locally grown foods means it has to travel less and creates fewer carbon emissions,” Walling said. “Also, growing diverse crops contributes to overall soil health.”
Another bill calls for including plant-based school lunch choices.
In addition to promoting new legislation, environmental groups also worked to block bills they believe would weaken the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. Walling said the bills would have “expanded fossil fuels and lessened the use of natural gas.”
CEJA, passed in 2021, put in place a timeline for the state to transition away from carbon energy and outlined investments in “green energy” sources and jobs.
“Any time that you’re making major changes, there’s always going to be some pushback,” Bush said. “There are people who are working in the fossil fuel arenas, and we certainly want to make sure they have good and decent-paying jobs.”
CEJA sets schedules for the closure of coal plants and also makes investments in job training and placement in alternative energy fields.
Bush said CEJA and the passing of a plan to identify and replace lead service lines had been major environment-related achievements of the previous session.
“Illinois is only the second state to require all our service lines to be replaced,” Bush said.
During the 2022 session, elected officials added language to these bills to ensure they were enacted and funded appropriately, including funding the launch of an apprenticeship program for green jobs.
The state’s incentive for residents to purchase electric vehicles was also extended to motorcyclists, who will receive a $1,500 rebate when they buy an electric motorcycle, Bush said.
State legislation expands incentives already given to Illinoisans who buy electric vehicles to include those who buy electric motorcycles like the Harley-Davidson LiveWire.
– Associated press
Major environmental justice issues bills did not gain enough support in the General Assembly, including legislation that would have required the removal of coal ash ponds in Waukegan, on the edge of Lake Michigan. The bill passed in the Senate but did not gain enough support in the House.
Industry interests opposed the bill, arguing that existing regulations already detail how coal ash must be disposed of. Environmental agencies had argued that the current regulations contain loopholes and needed to be revised to protect both Lake Michigan and groundwater sources of drinking water in local communities.
“We know that so many times these cleanup sites are located in Black and brown communities. … We are taking a very serious look at environmental justice issues,” Bush said.
Hannah Lee Flath, Sierra Club Illinois communications coordinator, said she hopes the new legislation, along with another bill that requires the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to consider communities’ input when granting permits involving air pollutants, will be reconsidered during the fall veto session.
Legislators shortened the spring session to make room for the election campaign season, which was shortened after lawmakers moved the primary to June 28 this year because of COVID-19. As a result, Bush said the upcoming veto session is expected to be “robust.”
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April 22, 2022 at 05:26AM