Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Despite Unanswered Questions, Senator Has Faith in Reconfigured FutureGen

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Durbin Touts Bill To Reduce Textbook Costs

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said he believes far too much of a college student's debt after four years comes from textbooks.

Durbin said the average student now spends nearly $900 a year on textbooks. Durbin said legislation that passed in July will make a few simple changes to let the student and professor know what that cost will be. In a stop at the University of Illinois Wednesday, Illinois' Senior Senator promoted the College Textbook Affordability Act. He says it's shocking that many professors actually don't know the retail price of a book. The measure requires publishers to provide that price in writing, and for faculty to keep students apprised of those costs. Durbin says another goal of the legislation is to create a market economy for students. "The good news is, for students, textbooks are more affordable," said Durbin, speaking in front of the Illini Union Bookstore. "The textbook publishers.. their prices have to be more competitive. For professors, be sensitive to the cost of textbooks for students and give these a chance to go shopping on line to find a bargain."

Graduate Student Josh Sulkin co-founded Illini Book Exchange, a free web site that allows students to exchange books without having to go through any book stores.

"The great thing this bill provides is information," said Sulkin. "Some of the other bookstores actually hide the ISBN numbers from you, so you can't know ahead of time unless you see the book physically what book you really need for the class. So you might buy a book on line based on the title, but it's the wrong book for the class and then you can't return it because it's on line, and then you just wasted even more money."

Durbin said a third part of the legislation will keep students from having to buy CD-ROM's and other supplemental equipment - those materials will now be bundled separately. Durbin said he introduced a second bill that will allow students to use 'open textbooks' on line.

Categories: Economics, Education

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

U of I Researcher Says Infants Should Eat Salmon

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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Categories: Environment, Health

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 30, 2010

New System Allows Campus Motorists to Pay Meter by Phone

The University of Illinois is testing a new parking payment system that aims to end the need to run outside to feed the parking meter.

The Verrus Pay By Phone system allows motorists to pay for parking by credit card, using their cell phone. U of I Facilities and Services spokesman Andy Blacker says Verrus will even send out a phone message when parking time is about to run out --- to give motorists a chance to buy extended parking time.

"For a large number of people that get tied up in a meeting, or class runs over, they don't have to worry about going out to find a parking ticket," said Blakcer. "They can actually use their cell phone to add time to their meter."

The convenience costs a little extra. Blacker said the Verrus Park By Phone system charges a 35-cent "convenience fee", on top of the university's standard parking rates. He said the fee is per transaction, so motorists will pay the same additional fee no matter how long they park.

The U of I is testing the Verrus system this fall at about 200 metered parking lots at four parking lots scattered around the U of I Urbana campus --- B1, C7, E3 and D22. Verrus provides its parking payment system in several cities in Canada and the United States, including Chicago. Blacker said they may expand its use at the University of Illinois, if the pilot program is a success.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 29, 2010

St. Joseph Woman Killed in Jamaica H.S. Accident Identified

Authorities have identified a St. Joseph woman who died in a bizarre accident at Jamaica High School Saturday afternoon.

Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson says an autopsy is scheduled for Monday. She says 36-year old Tammy Walsh was killed and two others were injured when a utility pole snapped in half after a freshman football game. Press reports indicate someone driving away from the event struck a guy wire attached to a utility pole. Tension between a cable connecting that pole to another caused the pole to snap, falling behind a section of bleachers. The pole struck Walsh and two other family members. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Her son, Dalton Walsh, was injured and taken to Carle Foundation Hospital. Another family member was treated and released. The driver of the SUV that hit the wire was not ticketed. Walsh was the cheerleading coach at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, which is expected to provide grief counselors for students at school on Monday.

Saturday's football jamboree at Jamaica High School involved freshman teams from several area schools.

Categories: Community

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 29, 2010

Federal Court Allows Autistic Child to Keep Dog in School

An Illinois appeals court has agreed to allow Villa Grove student to keep his autism helper dog in school.

The Fourth District Appellate Court sided with the family of Kaleb Drew. They had argued that the boy's yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under state law. The boy's mother had testified that the dog prevents the boy from running away, helps him focus on his homework and calms him when he has a tantrum. The appeals court upheld the November decision of a Douglas County judge. The court issued its opinion Tuesday.

The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog's presence and argued that it isn't a true service animal. A telephone message for the school district's attorney was not immediately returned.

Categories: Education

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