Illinois Public Media News

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

Brady Touts Jobs Plan, Backs off 10-Percent Cuts Pledge

Illinois' Republican candidate for governor says his plan for jobs would ultimately mean property tax relief for local school districts.

Bloomington Senator Bill Brady visited a machining facility in Champaign Tuesday to tout those plans. He says by introducing $3,750 dollars in tax credits for businesses over a 2-year period - and repealing the estate tax and gasoline sales taxes - that would bring 700,000 jobs back to Illinois.

Brady said 10-percent of revenue growth from those jobs will be placed into a property tax relief fund for school districts. He also refuted claims by his opponent, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn - that his more immediate plans for cutting education would actually raise property taxes.

"Ten percent of state funding on average to the school system is less than 2-and a-half percent reduction in overall spending," said Brady. "Now, there are many raises that are out there and contracts that might be negotiated to forgo for one year to meet these difficult times without pink-slipping or raising property taxes."

Brady also insists that school districts, universities, and social service providers would not experience the same problems they are now if they knew how much state money to count on in the first place. Brady says struggles at institutions like the University of Illinois are a result of state leaders "over promising and under-delivering."

The Senator has long pushed for 10-percent across the board cuts in state spending to balance the budget. But Brady said Tuesday that if elected, he will have experts audit the state's budget.

"Every dollar will be examined," said Brady. "Some programs likely will go by the wayside. Some will be examined. Some will be reduced. But we need someone to scrutinize every dollar of state spending so that we're utilizing the precious resources the taxpayers give us in a balanced way to focus on our highest priorities."

Brady said it is a mathematical equation that the state has to cut at least a dime in every dollar of spending, but wants to prioritize the remaining 90 cents.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 30, 2010

Champaign Asks City Staff to Develop Contingency Plans in City Budget

Champaign department heads and employee unions are being asked to develop contingency plans should rising costs and the poor economy force further cuts in services.

City finance director Richard Schnuer said the first $1 to $2 million in suggested cuts should be prepared by November, but he said departments could be asked to seek out an additional $4 million in cost reductions early next year. If the city has to act, Schnuer would not speculate on what areas could be cut, but he said that it is unlikely any department would go untouched. Schnuer added that employee compensation has become one of the key areas that could force these decisions.

"We had hoped that we would be able to have an agreement with the bargaining units to have a short-term contract that would have no increases to help us get us through this year, and hopefully, with the economy beginning to grow we'd have some more money for increases at at later time," said Schnuer. "But we have been bargaining for several months now, and unfortunately, that has been unsuccessful. We see that we will be paying some kind of increases."

Schnuer also noted that under Illinois law, police and fire unions can bring an arbitrator if they do not reach an agreement in negotiations. He said a number of parties at the state level want to reduce the share of income tax that goes to local governments.

"That would cut us close to $2 million based on proposals that have been made," said Schnuer. "We would like to think the state would balance its budget without reducing revenues to our city, but certainly, that may not be the case."

Schnuer also said the city is not counting on revenue growth in the current year. Schuner said there have already been more than $8 million in cuts in the last three years, primarily coming from city administration and public works. Proposals will be posted for city council consideration by November, but Schnuer said information will be available for the public review through the city's website as the process moves forward.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

Gas Leak Affects Downtown Champaign During Noon Hour

A gas leak in Champaign prompted the re-routing of cars and pedestrian traffic for about 90 minutes Friday.

Lieutenant John Millls with the Champaign Fire Department says an excavator hit a plastic line under the railroad tracks east of the Illinois Terminal building. The gas could be smelled for blocks when the line was hit just past 11:30, and a couple of businesses had to be evacuated. Mills says a crew was able to shut off a valve at Water and Chester streets just past 1. Firefighters left the scene at 1:15, and turned the scene over to Ameren for further repairs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Charges Dropped Against Robert Blagojevich

Federal prosecutors say they will not retry the brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

Nashville, Tenn. businessman Robert Blagojevich had been accused of scheming with his brother to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeeze people for campaign donations.

A jury last week deadlocked on the four counts against Robert Blagojevich and 23 of 24 counts against the former governor.

Prosecutors said Thursday they made the decision based on the brother's less central role in the alleged schemes. But they have said they will retry Rod Blagojevich.

The hearing Thursday will also determine when a trial could be held.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Engineers Focus on Design Phase in Latest Olympian Drive Roundtable

Another series of roundtable discussions on a proposed extension of Olympian Drive in Champaign County spent a lot of time on the design phase.

Engineers in Wednesday's public hearing in Urbana briefly ran through cost options of what's been identified as the first two phases through prior roundtables. Those are extending Olympian at Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and extending North Lincoln at Saline Court to Olympian. The full project calls for extending Olympian to US 45. The 60 people attending Wednesday night split up into roundtables on items like bike paths, wide medians, and installing roundabouts. But at least one elected official contends engineers have bigger issues to contend with first.

Champaign County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty calls the meeting a good effort, but says this issue is much more complicated. "There are going to be sticky issues regarding the sweeping 'S' up to connect Lincoln to Olympian," said McGinty. "Focusing on that to get the public behind that and the landowners behind that I think would be important. But, you know these are issues that would need to be addressed at some point. It feels like this is step 52 that we are taking now when we really need to be addressing step 1, 2, and 3."

McGinty says last night's forum also should have included talk on property acquisition, since it's been discussed among Urbana city leaders. County Board Republican Alan Nudo says he was impressed with the list of cost options, but says engineers need to do a feasibility study on the traffic in that area before deciding on a two or four lane road. Urbana City Council member Brandon Bowersox says he's glad stakeholders got to have a say. "There were no easy clear-cut answers, there were really a split of feelings, but at least it was good for me to see that everyone had a chance to come weigh in on that," said Bowersox. "That information will all be public, and all be available to people as we go ahead."

A longtime supporter of roundabouts, Urbana Mayor Prussing says she was happy to see support for traffic calming devices that cut down on accidents and save the cost installing traffic signals. Engineer Matt Heyen says Illinois' Department of Transportation has confirmed that part of $5-million in Illinois 'Jobs Now' funds can be used to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue. The next public meeting on the project is expected this fall.


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