Illinois Public Media News
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
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.
Adults are advised to eat fish a couple of times a week, and University of Illinois professor Susan Brewer of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition says parents should start feeding salmon to their infant children. Brewer spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about a new baby food she helped develop with salmon as the key ingredient.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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