Illinois Public Media News
Whether or not an underground coal mine opens on the Champaign-Vermilion County border, Champaign County officials will not be able to regulate it.
The Champaign County State's Attorney's office says a 1993 ruling from the Illinois Attorney General bars non-home-rule counties --- such as Champaign - from using zoning laws to regulate the mining of fossil fuels. The ruling was discovered after the Champaign County Board moved in August to defer discussion of the issue until September.
Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel --- a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey --- says news of the ruling did not surprise him.
"There are other things related to the exploration for oil and gas, as well as coal, that are often are exempt from the normal rules", explains Weibel. "For example, in Illinois, if you're exploring for oil and gas, and/or coal, you do not have to have a license. Whereas for any other geological activity, you do have to have a license."
Some county board members and residents had called for zoning rules for mines, after learning that Indiana-based Sunrise Coal was buying up mineral rights for a possible coal mine south of Homer. Most of the mine would be in Vermilion County, which has no zoning code. But the western end of the mine would be in Champaign County
Critics of the proposed mine had raised concerns that Sunrise Coal would use the "long wall" mining technique, which they say carries a greater risk of land subsidence. But the company says if they go ahead with the mine, they would stick to the less invasive "room-and-pillar" method. State_Atty_Generals_Ruling_on_Mining.doc
A defense attorney from the Southern Illinois town of Marion is facing criminal charges for allegedly attempting to traffic heroin-filled condoms into a federal prison in Indiana.
Robert Drew was taken into custody over the weekend at a Terre Haute jail, but was then admitted to a nearby hospital. Drew's wife, Joyce, said her husband was suffering from health problems connected to his diabetes.
He is listed in good condition, but would not return a call for comment.
A search of Drew's black Mercedes turned up marijuana, as well as the condoms with heroin, according to an affidavit written by FBI agent Jacob Overton.
Drew claimed the marijuana was for his own use, but he said he did not know what was in the condoms. However, he admitted that whatever they contained was prohibited in the prison, Overton wrote.
Overton reported Drew said he had delivered drugs to an inmate three to four times during the past year in private conference rooms inside the lockup. Lawyers gets more access and privacy to the conference room where they can talk to inmates, often with a guard standing outside the room. Those conversations are not tape recorded or listened in on by prison staff, according to Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley.
Joyce Drew said leading up to her husband's arrest; her husband received multiple threatening phone calls from someone who claimed that his grandkids would be harmed if he did not transport the drugs into the prison.
"If he committed that act on his own, then you know I am totally against that," she said. "If his story, which I believe, is true, then people should stop being so harsh to him."
Joyce said she does know who made the threatening phone calls and how her husband acquired the drugs. She also said she never spoke to the person making the threats.
U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison of Indiana's Southern District said Drew tried to get the heroin to "at least one" inmate at the prison.
Morrison said the long-time defense attorney is expected to make a court appearance shortly after he is released from the hospital. The government then has 30 days to indict.
The Bureau of Prisons' Traci Billingsley said known cases involving lawyers sneaking drugs into prisons are rare, and adds that all visitors to federal prisons are required to be scanned by a metal detector when entering.
Drew faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
US Senator Dick Durbin said cost overruns in the original plan for FutureGen led to the decision to reconfigure the project.
Illinois' Senior Senator said for months, the price tag was going up faster than the FutureGen Alliance could generate private money to pay for it. Durbin said he was on a one-man crusade to find new companies to join the Alliance.
He added that once the Energy Department would not pay more than $1.1 billion, plans for a power plant in Mattoon were scrapped. Durbin said he only knew of FutureGen 2.0 six days before it was publicly announced, and he was told to keep silent then, while federal officials sought support from companies like Ameren. Durbin says he couldn't even tell companies with the FutureGen Alliance.
"The Alliance members knew that we were in trouble,' says Durbin. "Because they knew it was costing too much money. They were soliciting new members into the Alliance to try to keep up with the increased cost of the construction - we just couldn't keep up with it. They knew that we had an economic problem. The thing I didn't know was that the original concept of FutureGen that was announced and was solicited was now in production in four different places in the United States, so it was no longer a unique research undertaking."
Durbin said a plant of the same type in Mississippi was even larger than the proposed FutureGen plant for Mattoon.
The Senator says he knows a lot of residents there are upset, but added he did not sell out on them.
"At the end, Illinois ends up with $1.1 billion in clean-coal technology," he said. "It means that we're going to be leading the nation in terms of reducing emissions from coal-fired plants. We're going to use our own geology to be able to protect those emissions from causing environmental harm."
The companies making up the Alliance put their support Tuesday behind the new plan, which includes retrofitting a power plant in Western Illinois, and finding another community for storing carbon emissions.
Durbin admitted a lot of elements of the plan have to be spelled out by the Energy Department, but said the private sector buy-in will allow the project to succeed. Durban said twenty five other Illinois communities, including Marshall and Taylorville, have inquired about the new emissions facility. Durbin said Coles County and an area within 100 miles of it has the capacity to hold the emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants for 50 years.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said he believes far too much of a college student's debt after four years comes from textbooks.
Durbin said the average student now spends nearly $900 a year on textbooks. Durbin said legislation that passed in July will make a few simple changes to let the student and professor know what that cost will be. In a stop at the University of Illinois Wednesday, Illinois' Senior Senator promoted the College Textbook Affordability Act. He says it's shocking that many professors actually don't know the retail price of a book. The measure requires publishers to provide that price in writing, and for faculty to keep students apprised of those costs. Durbin says another goal of the legislation is to create a market economy for students. "The good news is, for students, textbooks are more affordable," said Durbin, speaking in front of the Illini Union Bookstore. "The textbook publishers.. their prices have to be more competitive. For professors, be sensitive to the cost of textbooks for students and give these a chance to go shopping on line to find a bargain."
Graduate Student Josh Sulkin co-founded Illini Book Exchange, a free web site that allows students to exchange books without having to go through any book stores.
"The great thing this bill provides is information," said Sulkin. "Some of the other bookstores actually hide the ISBN numbers from you, so you can't know ahead of time unless you see the book physically what book you really need for the class. So you might buy a book on line based on the title, but it's the wrong book for the class and then you can't return it because it's on line, and then you just wasted even more money."
Durbin said a third part of the legislation will keep students from having to buy CD-ROM's and other supplemental equipment - those materials will now be bundled separately. Durbin said he introduced a second bill that will allow students to use 'open textbooks' on line.
Sheila Simon says improving education will bring more jobs to Illinois.
During a campaign stop on the University of Illinois campus, the democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said improving access to education will be a top priority if she and Pat Quinn win the general election in November.
She criticized GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for calling on a 10 percent budget cut across the board to different state programs, saying public education cannot afford to sustain cuts that steep. However, during a campaign stop in Champaign earlier in the day, Brady acknowledged that some programs may see more drastic cuts than others.
Simon also praised her running mate, Pat Quinn, for supporting the $26 billion jobs bill passed by Congress last month. Quinn has said the money will save about six thousand jobs for Illinois teachers, while Brady said he would rather use that federal money to help the state's budget.
"State Senator Brady said, 'No, it's irresponsible.' I think we have a different definition of irresponsible," she said. "I think it's irresponsible not to support education in the state."
Sheila Simon also commended the Quinn administration for raising more awareness about the problems facing the Monetary Award Program. The MAP program gives grants to needy college students attending public and private schools, but has been turning more students away. Simon said it is critical to find a better way to support the program.
During her campaign stop, Simon also described her interest in working with community organizations to curb the level of domestic violence in the state.
Simon is the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. She was appointed to run on the democratic ticket earlier this year after Independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen was forced to drop out because of his personal life. Cohen is now running as an Independent for governor, along with the Green Party's Rich Whitney.
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