Illinois Public Media News
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
A yearly ranking of cities and their air pollution problems lists Champaign-Urbana as relatively problem-free.
The area is listed as one of 25 cleanest when it comes to short-term pollution from particulate matter. The report covers the years 2006 through 2008 and compares metropolitan areas across the country.
Katie Lorenz is with the American Lung Association, which commissioned the study - she says Champaign-Urbana also fared well when it comes to ozone pollution over those three years.
"In Champaign there was one ozone day in the orange category, which means unhealthy levels of pollution for sensitive groups," Lorenz said. "And for that reading w gave them a B, which is actually pretty good comparatively across the state."
In comparison, McLean County had five days with orange-level ozone pollution two years ago, and Cook County had 25.
Lorenz says some long-term trends may be to credit for the improvement. "One of the reasons why we think that the quality has been better is due to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants. (Also,) transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines and really the steps that individuals are taking every day to make sure the quality of our air is improved."
Still the Lung Association's "State of the Air" study found that the St. Louis and Indianapolis areas suffer significant year-round pollution despite year-by-year improvements.
Student organizers of Thursday's Earth Day rally on the U of I Urbana campus focused on 'no more coal'.
Parker Laubach heads the Beyond Coal campaign as part of the Students for Environmental Concern, which sponsored and organized the rally. He proposes stopping upgrades to the campus' Abbott Power Plant and beginning the phase-out of coal on the university's campus.
But, Champaign City Councilman and Deputy Mayor Michael LaDue is surprised that the focus isn't more on reducing campus car traffic.
"Automobiles don't burn coal, but coal is a significant issue, "says LaDue. "I won't dismiss it. But on the University of Illinois campus, I think the presence of gas-guzzling automobiles is the preeminent environmental problem"
Reducing coal use was one of three actions proposed by student speakers during the rally.
The rally also featured LaDue and Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing reading proclamations on their cities' commitment to promoting environmental education and fighting climate change. Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also spoke about the university's commitment to environmental policies.
Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
A tree-killing beetle is inching closer to Champaign and Vermilion Counties.
Field workers recently found the emerald ash borer in about a dozen ash trees at a rest stop along I-57 near the Iroquois County town of Loda. A quarantine on bringing in firewood already impacts all or part of 21 Illinois Counties... most of them in northern and northeast Illinois. But it was extended downstate to McLean County after beetles were discovered in some trees in Bloomington two years ago. Warren Goetsch is the Illinois Department of Agriculture's bureau chief of environmental programs. He says there's a good chance those boundaries will extend to the east soon. "Just because of the way the infestations have been in Indiana - they're kind of looking at it from a national perspective," says Goetsch. "And sometimes, that big picture perspective perhaps causes us to work in some areas that maybe would have liked to have done a little differently. And so this gives us a little more confidence that we need to be doing some more trapping in East Central Illinois."
Goetsch says by telling people not to move firewood, to purchase it locally, and to burn it all when camping, they'll minimize the 'artificial' spread of the insect. Goetsch says he expects a number of ash borer traps to soon be set in Champaign and Vermilion Counties. The larvae from the green beetles burrow into the bark of ash trees, cutting off their food supply. The ash borer has killed more than 25 million ash trees in states like Michigan, Ohio and Missouri since 2002. It was first found in Illinois in northern Kane County in 2006.
The main source of power to the University of Illinois campus burns coal, but a student group wants to convert it to something cleaner.
Environmental groups have also gotten behind a call to make Abbott Power Plant a natural-gas-burning plant. It was built 70 years ago and has burned coal ever since, except for a period in the 1970s when the U of I converted it to natural gas. The university reverted to coal to demonstrate cleaner burning methods using Illinois coal.
Parker Laubach heads Students for Environmental Concerns. He acknowledges that natural gas would also emit carbon dioxide, but it would be a good first step to other alternative sources.
"We want to take incremental steps," Laubach said. "We don't want to be ridiculous and ask to shut down Abbott Power Plant -- we know it's not feasible or reasonable. But they've burned 100% natural gas in the past, and because of that, we feel that they can do it again. There's really no reason why not."
University officials have not yet returned calls seeking a response.
Laubach says the U of I is proposing to to spend $230 million on improvements at Abbott - money he says would be better spent on conversion to cleaner sources. He says research on cleaner coal burning is useful, but so-called carbon-capture technology hasn't been tested on a large scale.
The debate over extending Olympian Drive moved to the Champaign City Council chamber last (Tuesday) night. Council members gave their preliminary endorsement for an intergovernmental agreement with Urbana and Champaign County to complete the 27-millon dollar extension.
Council members also heard comments from landowners in the area of the extension who oppose the project. They say that the road --- and the development it would attract --- would destroy hundreds of acres of high-quality farmland. They found an ally in Councilwoman Marcy Dodds, who cast the lone "no" vote Tuesday night.
"Farmland is an amenity, not an obstacle," Dodds said before the vote. "It's sustainable economically, and it speaks to our quality of life. We need to stop looking at concrete like it's the last word in economics."
But John Dimit of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation told the council that the impact of development on farmers would not be as bad as they feared.
"We all know 1600 acres --- that's been the touted amount that this land --- would open up for urban development. That's not going to happen overnight," Dimit said. "It's not going to happen at all if the road's not developed. But it'll happen gradually if the road is out there. So, many of the farms out there, I think will be able to continue in agricultural interests.
Backers of the Olympian Drive extension say it would provide a needed route between I-57 on the west side of Champaign-Urbana, and US 45 to the east. The project depends on a mix of state, local and federal funding. The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on the intergovernmental agreement on March 16. Urbana and the Champaign County Board will also vote on the proposal this spring.
Environmental experts are looking for a little creativity this week when it comes to diverting tons of old TVs, computers or cell phones from the landfill - or worse.
Electronic waste can create pollutants as well as lots of solid plastic or metal waste, and much of it will come from machines that are still in working order. A two-day symposium on the University of Illinois campus begins Tuesday to address the large-scale problem.
Tim Lindsey is with the U of I's Sustainable Technology Center. He says everyone involved in the process - from manufacturers to retailers to recyclers - are getting together to talk about reducing the waste stream, and new reuse methods can play a huge role.
"You can take a ten-year old Pentium 3 computer, you could refurbish it, load it with Windows 7, and for most applications it will perform as well as a brand new computerwith respect to word processing, surfing the internet, spreadsheets and so forth. It would do just as well," Lindsey said.
Lindsey says one future answer may be to rethink how we buy electronics. He says consumers might warm up to the concept of buying a shell computer or cell phone and occasionally improving its performance with the newest technology.
A University of Illinois researcher back from Haiti says it was hard to separate his scientific work from the crisis surrounding him. Scott Olson is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He and a team of other geo-engineers examined if a process called liquefaction shook the Haitian soil so much that it could no longer support the structures on top of it - like the giant cranes at the capital's only port. The destruction blocked valuable aid from getting to victims. Olson sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about the trip in both scientific and human terms.
A small pre-dawn earthquake has hit northern Illinois, startling sleepy-eyed residents as far away as Iowa and Indiana, but no damage or injuries were immediately reported.
The U.S. Geological Survey reports that the 4.3-magnitude earthquake hit about 50 miles northwest of Chicago at 4 a.m. Wednesday.
USGS geophysicist Amy Vaughan says such quakes are rare in northern Illinois. She says the agency received reports from Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana about feeling the ground shake.
Sheriff's dispatchers near the epicenter in Kane County say they've been flooded with calls from startled residents. But spokesman Lt. Pat Gengler says no injuries or damage have been reported.
Residents reported being tossed out of bed and finding books and tools scattered across the floor.
Peoria-based Caterpillar has joined the growing list of supporters of the FutureGen coal-burning power plant planned for Mattoon.
And the heavy equipment maker is the first member of the FutureGen Alliance not tied directly with energy production. The alliance now has 11 members committed to providing financial resources to get FutureGen off the ground, they include Chicago-based utility giant Exelon, and St. Louis-based coal company Peabody Energy. Monday's announcement drew praise from officials like Governor Pat Quinn and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson. Coles Together Vice President Anthony Pleasant admits Caterpillar's backing may appear a bit unusual at the outset. "The rest are power generation companies, and clearly that's not what Cat does." says Pleasant. "But Cat's always been environmentally friendly. Just days ago, their headquarters in Peoria was LEED certified. They reduced energy by 40%, and water usage by 50%. So it's something they clearly invest in." In a release from the company, a Caterpillar official says the company has long been committed to technologies and policies that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of Greenhouse gas emissions.
Pleasant notes that Caterpillar also makes mining equipment. He says this move is a good sign that other companies not related to energy production will support FutureGen, and calm federal officials' concerns over cost. The price tag of the facility now stands at about 1-point-8 billion dollars, with the Department of Energy expected to handle just over a billion of that. Two years ago, the Bush Administration pulled the plug on the project due to cost overruns. A DOE announcement on whether FutureGen will be built could come later this month.
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