Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

Danville School District Tryng to Bring Teachers Back

With contract negotiations and a possible strike on the horizon, Danville school officials are trying to restore teaching positions that were cut in a series of layoffs last spring.

The state currently owes Danville's schools about $3 million in unpaid bills. Legislation President Obama signed in August doles out about $2.5 million to support education. The money could allow District 118 to hire more teachers and issue pay raises, which is one of the demands by union officials.

Superintendent Mark Denman cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, he said it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.

"If we hired a number of people back, and then next March the federal month is not coming any further in the next year and state funding isn't better," he said. "Then those jobs will have to be eliminated in all probability at that time."

Denman said the school district needs to submit proposals to the federal government outlining how it would spend the money. He said he hopes to go over possible spending options in a couple of weeks with the school board during its regular meeting.

In the meantime, the school board is scheduled to continue negotiations on Sunday with union members in an attempt to avert a possible strike.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2010

DOE Projects Expected to Test Technologies To Be Used in FutureGen

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2010

U.S. Senate Candidate Hears from Veterans in Urbana

The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.

U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.

Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.

Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.

"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.

Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.

"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."

Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.

"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."

Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.

During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.

The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.

The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.

A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2010

Water Main Break Squeeze Traffic on Mattis Ave. in Champaign

Two lanes of Mattis Avenue remain closed near the Champaign Post Office, as an Illinois-American Water Company crew works to repair a water main that broke late Monday night.

Illinois-American Water Champaign District Manager Barry Suits says the broken pipe was one of the main pipes leading out of the company's Mattis Avenue water treatment plant. The break occurred around midnight Monday night, causing sinkholes to form on the easternmost northbound lane.

The water main break forced the closure of Mattis Avenue near the post office, south of Bloomington Road. The road was reopened to traffic Tuesday, but northbound traffic is being routed through the center lane, while repairs continue.

Tom Schuh of the Champaign Public Works Department says he expects another lane of Mattis to reopen to traffic Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday. But he says it may be several days before the easternmost lane is clear for driving.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2010

Chicago Mayor Daley Won’t Run for Re-Election

Longtime Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday that he will not seek another term after more than two decades in office.

"Simply put, it's time," said Daley at a City Hall press conference. "It's time for me, it's time for Chicago, to move on."

The 68-year-old Democrat presided over Chicago for 21 years, like his father did before him. He said the decision was a personal one, and added that he and his family can now begin a "new phase of our lives."

Daley, who took office in 1989, made the announcement surrounded by family, including his wife, Maggie, who's been battling cancer since 2002, but the Mayor would not comment on whether his wife's illness played a role in his decision.

"In the coming days I know there will be some reflecting on my time as mayor, many of you will search to find what's behind my decision," Daley said. "It's simple: I've always believed that every person, especially public officials, must understand when it's time to move on. For me that time is now."

Chicago politicos have speculated for months as to Daley's political future, and his announcement Tuesday is sure to set off a scramble to fill the executive power vacuum at City Hall. The February 2011 municipal race will be the first since 1947 when a sitting mayor will not run for re-election.

President Barack Obama said Daley "leaves a legacy of progress'' that future generations will appreciate. Obama said in a statement that there's no mayor in America who has loved a city more or served a community "with a greater passion'' than Daley. Obama also noted that Daley helped build Chicago's "image as a world class city.''

The announcement leaves an open door for a host of candidates, including Democratic Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. Danny Davis, and Luis Gutierrez, and Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, among several others.

White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is also a possible candidate. The 50-year-old Emanuel is a one-time Daley adviser and a Chicago native. He was an Illinois congressman until he resigned to take his current White House post.

Emanuel said in an April television interview that he would like to run for mayor of Chicago someday, but later scaled back those comments. In a statement issued by his office shortly after Daley's announcement, Emanuel did not rule out a mayoral run.

"While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago," Emanuel said in the e-mailed statement.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod deflected questions on Tuesday about whether Emanuel would leave the White House to run for Chicago's mayor. He said Emanuel is focused on his current job with the Obama administration.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he called Daley after the announcement.

"Chicago's a great city, and that doesn't happen by accident," said Durbin. "Great people, great history, but good leadership, and I think he's written a terrific record in the city of Chicago."

Durbin would not comment on who he would support as a mayoral candidate.

Mayor Daley left immediately after his announcement and did not take further questions.

(Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2010

Champaign County Board Members Seeks to Block Coal Mine, Lure in FutureGen

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2010

Lawmakers Push for Immigration Law in Illinois

A proposal that will be introduced later this fall in the Illinois House of Representatives seeks to put an immigration law similar to the one passed in Arizona on the books.

State representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) is co-sponsoring the measure with Republican Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream). Mitchell said a centerpiece to the measure would cut Medicaid services to people who are not U.S. citizens by modifying the Illinois All Kids program, which provides health coverage for children regardless of immigration status.

"We're spending millions of dollars on health care for illegals," said Mitchell. "It's time to say enough is enough."

Illinois is just one of nine states that offers Medicaid to undocumented immigrants. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 1.6 million children are covered under the All Kids program, and a little more than three percent of those covered are undocumented.

"If you're going to do something in which you specifically target children, and make it so that they're not eligible for certain services and accesses, that's not only cruel and heartless, it's just absolutely mind-boggling," said Linus Chan, a staff attorney at the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul University. "That's not going to solve the problem of undocumented immigration."

Mitchell said with a $13 billion budget deficit, Illinois is in no shape to be offering health care services to people living in the country illegally. He said an influx of undocumented immigrants coming to the state are weighing down on the number of available jobs, and contributing to higher taxes going to support education and health care services.

He added that the legislation will also create more stringent regulations for employers who hire undocumented workers, and include language allowing law enforcement officials to ask for someone's paperwork when a "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally." Mitchell noted that the color of a person's skin would not qualify as a "reasonable suspicion."

Chan said he is worried pushing people out of the state could have dire consequences on Illinois' economy. He took note of a 2006 study released by the Texas comptroller's office, which indicates that eliminating illegal immigration could reduce that state's workforce, personal income, and gross state product.

Mitchell said the legislation will be introduced in November. Since Arizona passed its controversial law in April, other states have considered similar proposals, including Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

(Photo courtesy of mk30/flickr)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2010

Champaign County Learns It Has No Say in Regulating Proposed Coal Mine

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


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Lt. Gov. Candidate Sheila Simon Talks About Education with U of I Students

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

FutureGen Alliance Agrees to Energy Department Changes

Companies that have worked with the U.S. Department of Energy in its bid to build an experimental coal power plant and store its carbon dioxide have decided to stick with the project, but the consortium said that a series of terms and conditions will have to be met this fall.

The Alliance wants to build and operate a pipeline that would be part of recent Energy Department changes, and they want to run the site where carbon dioxide would be stored underground. Alliance Board Chairman Steve Winberg said in a press release that the group is pleased that the federal government and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been able to preserve the $1 billion in funding for advancing clean coal technologies and associated jobs.

"We look forward to working with them and our new partners in making FutureGen 2.0 a success," said Winberg. The original FutureGen was to include a power plant near Mattoon, but the Department of Energy replaced the idea with plans for a new plant there for storing emissions. The new so-called clean coal project will now involve a retrofitted power plant in Western Illinois. Mattoon withdrew from the project after the change.

Meanwhile, the economic official who led Mattoon's effort to lure and develop the original FutureGen project calls the Alliance a group of great partners with high integrity. Coles Together President Angela Griffin says she wishes the companies all the best as they plan FutureGen 2.0. She says the Alliance is investing in the project for the right reasons - bringing a billion-dollar project to Illinois. But Griffin says it's unclear what exactly the Department of Energy will be seeking in a new community to house a carbon storage facility. She cites a press release put out by the DOE last week for interested communities.

"There were no site parameters or project parameters that the communities could then look at that would then say whether or not they were eligible," said Griffin. "Now, largely in that press release it talked about 10 square miles of subsurface, and I think 100 miles from the Meredosia plant. But other than that, I don't know that communites have received any direction about what they need to have in terms of site features in order to apply."

Griffin says she spoke with the mayor of Marshall, who expressed interest in luring the new FutureGen facility. And she says the mayor of Taylorville had also shown interest. But Griffin says she hasn't endorsed any community to host the new carbon storage facility. Griffin says her group may cross paths again with the FutureGen Alliance, as economic officials in Mattoon pursue development of technologies at the city's site that address greenhouse gas emissions. And Alliance Chairman Steve Winberg says the site in Mattoon is 'excellent' for future commercial development.


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