Illinois Public Media News
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
Retired federal judge Abner Mikva says he wants to bring some transparency to the admissions process at the University of Illinois, and ensure that students are admitted on merit and not "political clout". Mikva has been named by Governor Pat Quinn to chair a seven member commission to investigate U of I admission practices and issue a report in 60 days. The commission was formed after news reports revealed that some less-qualified students had been admitted because of political connections. Mikva talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the new commission and its goals.
A Champaign County Board Policy Committee member who called for discussion of whether the county coroner, recorder and auditor should be appointed rather than elected, now says he's leaning toward keeping at least two of them as they are.
Democrat Brendan McGinty spoke at the close of the last of three Policy Committee hearings held this week on the issue. McGinty says he supports keeping the coroner and recorder elected, but hasn't decided about the auditor. The Urbana Democrat says the auditor in Champaign County has tended to lack the specific professional skills needed for the office. Auditor Tony Fabri testified Wednesday night that his job was to fight for and defend the work done by his professional staff. But McGinty questioned whether the auditor's staff needed an elected auditor to act as their sword and shield.
"I think a county engineer, a supervisor of assessments, a county administrator, other appointed positions in the county, provide their own sword by doing their job -- provide their own shield by providing information and being experts at what they do," McGinty said.
Still, he said he was impressed by some who spoke in favor of an elected auditor at last night's hearing, including former State Senator Rick Winkel, and Urbana Mayor --- and former auditor --- Laurel Prussing.
The Policy Committee will discuss the issue again in August. The Champaign County Board could vote to put a referendum on one or more of the three offices on the 2010 ballot.
There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says he's receptive to an outside look at the U of I's admissions procedures.
But university spokesman Tom Hardy says until Governor Pat Quinn steps into the discussion over a list of prospective students who may have gotten improper admission assistance from political leaders, a task force announced last week will handle the task.
"If the Governor announces something that could work with that or separately or would supersede that, we'll certainly abide by whatever the governor's prerogative is," Hardy said.
Hardy says that task force would include people from outside the University, but critics say it wouldn't be a completely independent investigation. Monday night, President White told a Chicago TV interviewer that an investigation into the so-called "Category I" admission list should be as independent as possible.
A neighborhood in east Champaign is about see the long-awaited cleanup of a former manufactured gas plant get underway. Residents in the area contend that that work will not only stop short of what's necessary... but say part of the problem is the city's fault. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
Public hearings in Champaign County this week will consider whether the elected county offices of auditor, coroner and recorder of deeds should be appointed instead.
Any member of the public can speak at these hearings --- including the three office holders, who will argue for election by voters over appointment by the county board. Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri says making his office an appointed one would make him beholden to the same county officials whose spending he's supposed to review. "When you take that position and make it subordinate to the folks who are actually making the expenditures," says Fabri, "it weakens the independence of the office, and it weakens the financial safeguards that the county has to protect taxpayer money."
County Board members Brendan McGinty and Greg Knott first proposed appointing rather than electing the three county offices a couple of years ago. McGinty says initial research reveals that counties as big or bigger than Champaign County elect rather than appoint their coroner, auditor and recorder. --- and he says there may be good reasons for that. "I wouldn't be disappointed if we ended up making no changes or making changes that make sense," says McGinty. "All I want to do is have the conversation on it, do the research on it."
McGinty and Knott serve on the Champaign County Board Policy Committee, which is holding the hearings. Committee chairman Tom Betz says the hearings will help the county board decide whether to put a referendum on the fall 2010 ballot asking voters if they want to make any or all of the offices appointed instead of elected.
All hearings will be held at the Champaign County Brookens Center in Urbana. The recorder of deeds hearings starts at 6 PM Tuesday followed by the coroner's hearing at 7. The auditor's hearing is Wednesday night at 6.
Ameren is seeking an increase in its electricity and natural gas delivery charges. The energy company filed the request Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The increases would affect the price of delivering energy to the customer, not the actual price of electricity and gas. If approved, Ameren says that the typical AmerenIP customer would pay $152s more per year. Ameren CILCO customers would pay $102 more. And Ameren CIPS customers would pay $119 more --- higher in the Metro East area. In this case, the typical customer uses 10-thousand kilowatt hours of electricity and 785 therms of natural gas a year.
Ameren has compiled details about its rate hike request on a special website, IllinoisRateFacts.com.
The ICC granted Ameren its last rate increase in September of last year.
Restrictions on the sale of baked goods at Urbana's Market at the Square have prompted an area lawmaker to find ways of relaxing or modifying a state law.
Danville Republican Bill Black wants to start up a task force to find out what prompted a 10-year old measure that requires those cookies and pies to be prepared in commercial kitchens. It was recently enforced in Urbana for the first time, driving away some vendors. But Black contends the enforcement of the measure is 'spotty' at best:
"The opening day of the farmer's market in Danville there were home-baked goods," says Black. "I asked somebody if this was done in a commercial kitchen. And he said 'yeah, my kitchen.' So just thirty miles apart there was some confusion."
But Kolby Riggle, Director of Environmental Health with Vermilion County's Health Department, contends the law has always been enforced there. Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde says she doesn't have an opinion as to whether the measure is necessary, but says it will continue to be enforced locally. Black suggests that changes to the law could be as simple as placing a label on a baked good - advising that it was homemade. His task force would consist of legislators, local public health professionals, officials with the Department of Agriculture, and members of the public who sell at farmer's markets. Black hopes to begin meetings by fall, with hopes of completing a report by the end of the year.
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