Illinois Public Media News
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says he holds out hope the Department of Energy officials will visit Mattoon despite the community's desire to move on.
The Republican has been urging the DOE to reverse its decision since last week's announcement to make the city a storage site rather than home to a new coal-fired power plant. Johnson says Department Assistant Secretary James Markowski made a commitment to him Tuesday that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would still come to Mattoon. "He said he said he'd come here, so I can only take him at his word." said Johnson. "However, given the lack of credibity of the Department of Energy in this whole decision making process, their lack of transparency and lack of communication with me, I've come to not believe anything they would tell me. So the fact he said he would come, or at least his undersecretary said he'd come, is just about as believable as the fact he told us in April he'd keep us posted on an hour by hour basis."
Johnson has called the Department of Energy's decision an 'absolute betrayal' of lawmakers like him that have pushed for the FutureGen project for years. He says Coles Together made the right decision to reject the new FutureGen, adding that the reconfigured project involving a power plant in Western Illinois likely won't happen either. Johnson calls FutureGen 2.0 a bureaucratic effort to 'kick the can further down the road.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is demanding that Mattoon officials decide by the end of the week whether they want to be part of the revised FutureGen clean-coal project.
Durbin made the demand Monday in a letter to Angela Griffin. She leads the Coles Together economic development group in Coles County. "We need to make sure that we understand exactly what FutureGen 2.0 represents," said Griffin. "We need to make sure that we've considered everthing - that we haven't eliminated something from consideration that's important. We need to consider the immediate impact, and we need to consider the long-term impact. This project as presented has several faces to it, and we need to consider what DOE's (The Department of Energy's) long-term plans are for a carbon storage system in Mattoon." But Griffin says she holds no ill will towards Senator Durbin, who she notes worked for this project and the Mattoon community for years, at a time when many others in Washington turned their backs on it.
Until last week FutureGen included a power plant to be built in Mattoon with carbon dioxide from its coal stored underground. The Department of Energy now wants to retrofit a plant across the state in Meredosia. Mattoon would store carbon dioxide from that plant. The department has said it needs to finalize revisions by Sept. 30 to use $1.1 billion in stimulus funds. Durbin says the Department of Energy needs to find a new carbon storage site if Mattoon isn't interested. Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says his request to meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the changes has been turned down.
The Champaign School Board has unanimously approved a new three-year contract for nearly 500 support staff. This comes six months after negotiations began between the Champaign Educational Support Professionals union and the school district, and more than a month after the old contract expired.
The contract includes a 65 cent pay raise for teaching assistants after one year, and a 50 cent increase each year for the following two years. Board President Dave Tomlinson says teacher assistants in Champaign have traditionally made less money compared to aides in nearby school districts.
"We tried to bring them up to a comparable area over the three year period," he said, adding that teacher's aides are with students as much as teachers are during a seven hour day.
The contract also covers other positions, including custodians, maintenance personnel, and food service workers. They will see their annual salaries go up by around two-point-two percent.
Union President Mary Logsdon was congratulated by members of the school board, including Tomlinson and Superintendent Arthur Culver. Logsdon described the new contract as a victory for the union given the state's financial crisis, but she added that many of its members were not completely satisfied with the final outcome.
"You know, there are still people out there who are going to have to work two or three jobs in order to pay their bills," she said. "We're only going to get so much."
Tomlinson said he anticipates the school board cutting about two million dollars from the budget next year. Students are scheduled to return to class on August 19th.
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says he's 'more than upset' with the Obama administration for what he calls an absolute betrayal of what has been promised for FutureGen.
The Republican says the revamped agreement to make Mattoon a repository for underground storage of carbon emissions, rather than the home to a clean-coal burning plant, shows 'a lack of credibility' from colleagues who had support the original project the last few years. Johnson says he's hoping to set up a meeting with US Energy Secretary Steven Chu next week, with hopes he'll reconsider. "We don't know exactly what the cost is going to be, but it's definable enough that we can go ahead with the project as promised," said Johnson. "As a matter of fact, we just got a letter within the last day or two from I-EPA indicating that they were going full speed with the project. So this came as a complete suprise to us, and it came as a complete surprise to everybody in the delegation apparently with the exception of Senator (Dick) Durbin."
Johnson says the Illinois US Senator had plenty of time to take credit for FutureGen's original plan... but has now become someone he can't count on. The Congressman says Republican colleagues Mark Kirk and John Shimkus are also upset with the revamped plan. Meanwhile, the chairman of the consortium of energy companies supporting the FutureGen project said it was ready to go ahead with the revised plans. Steven Winberg of the FutureGen Alliance says they look forward to "moving the project to the new phase", and working with the Energy Department and officials in Coles County to better understand the new plan's "details and merits".
The FutureGen project has taken a completely new turn -- and the bottom line is that Mattoon will not be hosting a power plant.
Instead, Senator Dick Durbin says the Department of Energy's new plan for the project is to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant in western Illinois with a process called oxy-combustion. That process is designed to reduce CO2 emissions from the plant - what DOES get emitted would be sent by a brand new pipeline to Mattoon, where it would be stored in the underground facility that was already proposed for that site.
Durbin says Mattoon will still host a major portion of the FutureGen project - just not a freestanding power plant.
"It really made no sense to say we're going to build a power plant to prove what's already being tested in three of four different commercial facilities. That happens when you wait six years," Durbin told reporters Thursday afternoon. "So we tried to pick a technology that had a future, for retrofitting power plants and creating a pipeline that would be of value."
Durbin says the change will reduce the price tag to $1.2 billion, some of it contributed by the alliance of power and coal companies in FutureGen. He says plant retrofitting and pipeline work could begin next spring - the underground pipeline would use existing easements, some of them already containing pipelines.
Senator Durbin also says instead of the plant, Mattoon site would hold a training facility for experts to retrofit many other coal-fired plants across the country over time. But he says funding for that facility has not yet been lined up.
Elizabeth Garcia says food stamps allow her to feed her three children.
The Mahomet woman's family is one of the record 780,000 Illinois households who relied on food stamps in June. The state Department of Human Services says the economy is the primary reason more people than ever are using food stamps.
Garcia's family lives mainly on her boyfriend's $540 a month in restaurant wages. She hasn't been able to find work. The 32-year-old says food stamps mean her kids eat healthy food.
But Alana Sykes of Rantoul found out Monday that even her unemployment benefits are too high for her to qualify. Sykes lost her job in state layoffs late last year. And she says those unemployment benefits aren't enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
Gov. Pat Quinn has provided new details on his plans to slash state spending, including the decision to cut far more from social services.
The agency that handles Medicaid will lose $216 million, or about 2.7 percent. Last month, Quinn said the agency would be one of the few to actually get more money. The Department of Human Services is being cut by $576 million, or 14 percent. Originally, the department was going to lose just $312 million. Funding for higher education is listed at more than 2.1 billion dollars in 2011, a $105 million dollar decrease. The governor's office says much of that decrease is in the form of federal stimulus money that won't be received next year.
Illinois faces the worst budget deficit in state history, roughly $12 billion. Quinn plans at least $1.4 billion in spending cuts to help reduce the shortfall.
A newspaper article in the Chicago area has leaders in Decatur worrying about the status of a major employer.
British company Tate & Lyle can trace its roots in Decatur back to 1909 and the A. E. Staley Company. Its US headquarters is in one of the city's tallest buildings, next to its factory on Decatur's east side. But Crain's Chicago Business reported yesterday that Tate & Lyle has taken interest in an office building in suburban Hoffman Estates.
A Tate and Lyle spokeswoman has told media outlets that no decision has been made on a headquarters move. But Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady says economic development leaders need to keep in touch with the company to press the argument for staying where it is.
"Tate and Lyle would at this point not confirm that they were looking at any buildings in Hoffman Estates, just that they are looking at all of their business functions," McCrady said. "So I imagine that time is of the essence, and we're going to move as fast as possible."
McCrady says that includes reminding the company of Decatur's quality-of-life benefits for employees. But he says there may not be many economic incentives for the city to offer if Tate and Lyle moves within the state of Illinois.
Tate and Lyle employs up to 800 people in Decatur, but McCrady says that includes both the headquarters and the factory, and the factory location is not in question.
The July reading of the University of Illinois Flash Economic Index was 91.6. That's three tenths of a percent better than the measurement for June, but economist Fred Giertz says it's still well below the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction.
Giertz says Illinois and the nation are mired in the longest and deepest recession since the end of World War II, and it will take time to recover. He says the state's unemployment rate is falling but still above the national rate.
The Flash Index measures state collections each month from personal income, corporate and sales taxes - it found that while income and sales tax revenue were down in July, corporate tax receipts were up.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security is urging Illinois residents who need to certify for unemployment insurance benefits to do so through the Internet, rather than the telephone.
IDES said Friday that flooding at a telephone switching station in Chicago has interrupted its telephone service, but not its Internet access. Department spokesman Greg Rivera said that although the outage blamed on recent heavy rains is only local, it has interrupted telephone certifications statewide.
Certifying for the benefits is required before unemployment payments can be issued.
Rivera said Internet certification can be accomplished at www.ides.state.il.us. He said applicants should use a drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the Web site.
Rivera said people without Internet access are encouraged to go to a local library or their local IDES office.
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