Illinois Public Media News
Illinois EPA Chief Doug Scott came to Champaign County Wednesday to announce funding for three local projects aimed at cleaning up local air and water.
Scott visited the Champaign-Urbana MTD bus garage to announce a $445,000 Clean Diesel grant --- backed by federal stimulus money --- to retrofit 43 diesel buses with special exhaust filters designed to keep diesel particulate from getting into the outside air.
"They capture about 90 percent of the diesel sub-particulates, and 75-80 percent of the hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emitted from diesel engines," Scott said. "This will provide more clean air for the employees and also for the public, the staff, the students at the U of I who ride the buses or walk near the bus routes."
The CU-MTD worked with researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences to choose the right filters for their buses and the local climate, as well as setting protocol for installation and maintenance.
While in Urbana, Scott also announced $47 million in federal stimulus and state loans to finance improvements at the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District's Northeast Wastewater Treatment plant in Urbana.
Later, Scott visited the small Champaign County village of Homer, which is receiving more than $10 million dollars in state grants and loans to finance the construction of its first-ever wastewater plant and centralized sewage collection system. The project will replace the individual septic systems currently used by Homer residents and businesses.
During his Urbana stop, Scott also said the Illinois EPA is working to meet a federally imposed deadline for strengthening state regulation of large confined-animal farms, known as confined-animal feeding operations (CAFO).
The federal EPA has given its Illinois counterpart until the end of the month to complete an inventory of the state's CAFO's, overhaul its inspection program and set procedures for investigating citizen complaints.
Scott said his agency has been working on the issue for the last couple of years, and expects to have a "good response" for the federal EPA's demand.
"We take this issue very seriously," Scott said. "We know that these facilities have the potential to cause some large (scale) pollution, and we know that it's important for us to get the best handle we can on that --- both in terms of permitting, but also in terms of enforcement. And that's the steps we have been taking, and what we will continue to do."
A federal EPA report last month found widespread problems with Illinois' oversight of large-scale cattle, hog and chicken operations, and the huge amounts of waste that they produce. The report found state inspection reports that failed to say if a CAFO was following pollution laws or not, and many cases where the state failed to get farms to comply with those laws.
The report also indicated that the Illinois EPA's enforcement powers are too weak. Scott said he will ask state lawmakers next year to give his agency authority that is currently left to the state attorney general.
Communities and companies interested in hosting the CO2 storage site for the FutureGen project now have some details on what they will need to provide.
On Wednesday, the FutureGen Alliance sent out preliminary site selection guidelines for the project. CEO Kenneth Humphreys said this will give potential applicants an idea of the information they will have to provide.
According to the guidelines, the site used to store emissions from the FutureGen coal-fired power plant will need to be able to hold at least 39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years.
All sites must also utilize the Mount Simon sandstone formation, a formation underlying a large part of Illinois and other Great Lakes states. It is considered a good site for long-term CO2 storage.
The site-selection decision also will consider protection of the environment and public health around the site, how cheaply it can be constructed, and the ability to stay on schedule. Local community support also is crucial.
Mattoon, the original choice to host the FutureGen storage hub, withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant. Humphreys said both Mattoon and Tuscola --- a previous FutureGen finalist --- could be viable sites for the storage hub, if they chose to apply.
"I think that should one of the prior sites want to compete in this process, there may be some additional actions they would need to take," said Humphreys. "But they would clearly be competitive, as would many other communities that have raised their hands with an interest."
Humphreys said about two dozen communities and companies have expressed interest in the FutureGen storage hub. Once completed, the facility will hold CO2 piped in from a retro-fitted power plant in the western Illinois town of Meridosia.
Humphreys said a more detailed "Request For Proposals" will come out in a few weeks, and then the applicants will have three weeks to submit their formal proposals. He said they hope to be able to announce a site for CO2 storage in early 2011. Humphreys added that he has heard informally from some two dozen communities and companies that may be interested in applying for the FutureGen storage site.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.
Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.
"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"
Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.
"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."
Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.
"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."
Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Ameren Corporation is trying to cut costs and improve service by merging three of its electric and natural gas subsidiaries. The St. Louis-based utility says it will consolidate AmerenIP, AmerenCIPS, and AmerenCILCO into a single public entity known as Ameren Illinois.
"This merger is the logical next step in the evolution of our business in Illinois," said Thomas R. Voss, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ameren Corporation. "For the last several years, we have been moving towards operating our Illinois utilities as one company to reduce the cost of operations and gain efficiencies for our customers.
The parent company will be headquartered in Peoria, and spokesman Leigh Morris said the reorganization will not affect electricity and natural gas rates. Morris added that he expects the merger will lead to greater customer service for approximately 1.2 million customers in the state.
"It's those kind of stream lining things that will go forward, and it's going to allow us to become more efficient," he said. "It's going to allow us to reinforce our commitment to providing safe, reliable energy delivery service."
Ameren Illinois serves all or part of 85 of Illinois' 102 counties and ranks as the second-biggest Illinois electricity delivery operation in terms of total customers. The subsidiary has 813,000 natural gas customers.
While each one of the electric and gas utilities that now make up Ameren Illinois charged different rates, Morris said flat fee will eventually be available to all Ameren customers. However, for now, customers will continue to pay the same rates they were paying before the merger. Customers who want to report an outage or obtain account information can call a toll-free number at 1-800-755-5000.
Federal officials have taken one more step toward making the re-worked FutureGen clean-coal project a reality.
The Department of Energy signed an agreement with Ameren Energy Resources to start design work to retrofit a power plant near Meredosia. Under FutureGen 2.0, carbon dioxide produced from that plant would be piped to a site where it would be stored underground. Mattoon bowed out of the project this summer, leaving the site of that storage facility in question.
Also in question is how much the project could cost Ameren and its customers. Utility spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said Ameren will have to ask state lawmakers for some sort of cost-recovery plan. Gallagher said it was too early to elaborate, saying, "We do have a lot of analysis, review, cost estimates, analyzing commercial viability before we go forward."
Gallagher said the first two phases of the project will have to be completed before any construction work begins and an exact dollar estimate would be in place.
On Tuesday the Energy Department formally committed $1 billion to FutureGen.
On Saturday, October 25th, from 10 AM to 2 PM, enforcement agencies, pharmacies, and other sites will be accepting unwanted prescription drugs as part of a nationwide Drug Enforcement Administration take-back program.
Scott Collier of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in St. Louis says the initiative is part of a larger effort to combat prescription drug abuse.
"There are actually more prescription drug abusers than there are abusers of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs combined. It's second only to marijuana", says Collier.
In 2009, an estimated 7 million Americans used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.
Another goal of the initiative is to reduce water pollution. Medications flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain go straight to a waste-water treatment plant.
Research hydrologist Dana Kolpin of the U.S. Geological Survey says those plants were never designed to remove pharmaceuticals - and there's no law requiring them to do so. Kolpin says studies have found drugs in effluent and sludge - and trace levels in rivers and streams, where they're having effects on wildlife.
"They're not acute effects where it's causing say massive fish kills", says Kolpin, "but we're seeing say fish that have both male and female characteristics, and those kind of subtle effects that are certainly a concern as well."
Kolpin attributes most water contamination to the routine use of medications to treat people and livestock, but says improper disposal does contribute to the problem.
You can dispose of prescription drugs during the DEA's National Take Back Day, Saturday, September 25th, from 10 to 2, at the following east-central Illinois locations:
Arcola - Arcola Police Dept., 920 S. Washington St. Arthur - Arthur Visitors Center, 106 E. Progress Clinton - Clinton Police Dept., 118 W. Washington St. Danville - Sheriff Office at the Vermilion County Courthouse, 7 N. Vermilion St. Decatur - City-County Law Enforcement Center, 333 N. Franklin St. Normal - Normal Police Dept., 100 E. Phoenix Tuscola - Douglas County Sheriff's Dept., 920 S. Washington St.
One of the big purple insect traps across Champaign County has caught the county's first confirmed emerald ash borer.
The state Department of Agriculture says it found the insect in a trap hanging at the village of Rantoul's Prairie Pine Campgrounds. Spokesman Jeff Squibb says the discovery will likely mean that the quarantine placed over 23 Illinois counties will eventually be extended south to Champaign. Squibb says it's nearing the end of flying season for adult emerald ash borers -- but their destructive work is just beginning, and he says the beetle is likely in Champaign County to stay.
"The adults lay eggs underneath the bark of ash trees," said Squibb. "Those eggs will hatch, and the larvae will start feasting on the inner wood beneath the bark. And it's actually the larvae that causes the damage to the ash trees." Squibb says the quarantine will ban the transportation of firewood from Champaign County to other states, as well as transporting all parts of local ash trees. The pest was also discovered at the Three Rivers Rest Area off Interstate 80 in the Grundy County town of Morris.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said many of the nearly $600 million in carbon capture and storage projects announced Tuesday will help make FutureGen a less costly and more efficient operation.
The $575 million in stimulus dollars targets 15 states - including Illinois. About $312 million will go to large-scale testing of coal gasification technologies, and $90 million will examine the way carbon capture will operate in power plants, like the one in Western Illinois that is set to be part of the reconfigured plans for FutureGen.
Chu said the projects announced Tuesday will create jobs, and encompass many of the practices involved in FutureGen. "While the FutureGen project will test the system, we're also investing in the components of the system so that we drive down costs,' said Chu. "Our goal is to start to deploy scale commercially within 10 years."
One of the projects announced Tuesday involves $5 million that will allow the University of Illinois to further evaluate the state's geology. Rob Finley with Illinois' State Geological Survey said the funds will help with continuing research of the Knox dolomite and sandstone formations in the western portion of the Illinois Basin, and could help determine what site will best accommodate FutureGen's carbon emissions facility.
"Basically what we're looking for is to make sure that the site is picked, and can effectively keep the CO2 isolated from the atmosphere," said Finley, director of the Survey's Advanced Energy Technology Initiative. "So that site has to be safe, you have to make sure the CO2 is not going to leak out, that it's not going to affect groundwater in people's properties. So, anytime we have more geologic information about the regional geology, it helps us pick a better and safer site."
Finley said the $5 million project covers a lot of East Central Illinois, and he added that the DOE's specification on locating a storage site 100 miles from Meredosia is likely based on the cost of the pipeline, which can run about $1 million a mile.
Champaign County Board Chair and geologist Pius Weibel said bringing FutureGen to the county is geologically feasible, but he wants to know more about Department of Energy guidelines, which he said are constantly changing. Meanwhile, Assistant Energy Secretary Jim Markowski said that he expects an announcement on a city to host that site by next spring or summer.
Chu would not endorse or dismiss any of the 26 communities that have expressed an interest, saying they are under evaluation.
Despite an Attorney General's ruling, a Champaign County Board member still believes there's a way to block a coal mine from locating in the southeast part of the county.
Democrat Alan Kurtz wants to force out Sunrise Coal and find a way to lure in FutureGen's carbon storage facility that's part of new Department of Energy plans. Kurtz says the State's Attorney's office could allow Champaign County to intervene if there are health, safety, or welfare concerns involved with the coal mine. He says that would overrule the 1993 ruling discovered last week, saying non home-rule counties like Champaign can't use zoning to regulate mining for fossil fuels. The Terre Haute-based Sunrise is buying mineral rights to locate a mine south of Homer.
Kurtz says a mine could pollute water, cause flooding and hurt farmland in that area. He says he doesn't care that Sunrise intends to use a less invasive mining technique. "Room-and-pillar may be supposedly safer than longwall mining," said Kurtz. "But the key is even with room-and-pillar, eventually there have been subsidence and sinkholes that appear in the land above. It could be 20 years from now or 30 years from now." Sunrise is expected to locate primarily in Vermilion County. But Kurtz says if more coal is found, nothing would keep Sunrise from submitting applications for additional land in Champaign County. Meanwhile, Kurtz says he's called Senator Dick Durbin's office about the reconfigured FutureGen, which now includes a site for storing carbon emissions pumped from a power plant in Western Illinois.
"I've asked Pius (County Board Chair Pius Weibel) who's a geologist to check and see if Champaign County has the facility to be able to house this project," said Kurtz. "Why? Because it's worth $400 million in new economic development. It's worth 350 new jobs here in Champaign County. And it's cleaning up the coal." About 25 communities, including Decatur and Marshall, have shown an interest in bringing the new facility. Kurtz contends an underground aquifer in Champaign County's Newcomb Township contains the pipelines that would accommodate the plant.
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
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