Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 05, 2010

Durbin: FutureGen a Go, But Without a Mattoon Power Plant

The FutureGen project has taken a completely new turn -- and the bottom line is that Mattoon will not be hosting a power plant.

Instead, Senator Dick Durbin says the Department of Energy's new plan for the project is to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant in western Illinois with a process called oxy-combustion. That process is designed to reduce CO2 emissions from the plant - what DOES get emitted would be sent by a brand new pipeline to Mattoon, where it would be stored in the underground facility that was already proposed for that site.

Durbin says Mattoon will still host a major portion of the FutureGen project - just not a freestanding power plant.

"It really made no sense to say we're going to build a power plant to prove what's already being tested in three of four different commercial facilities. That happens when you wait six years," Durbin told reporters Thursday afternoon. "So we tried to pick a technology that had a future, for retrofitting power plants and creating a pipeline that would be of value."

Durbin says the change will reduce the price tag to $1.2 billion, some of it contributed by the alliance of power and coal companies in FutureGen. He says plant retrofitting and pipeline work could begin next spring - the underground pipeline would use existing easements, some of them already containing pipelines.

Senator Durbin also says instead of the plant, Mattoon site would hold a training facility for experts to retrofit many other coal-fired plants across the country over time. But he says funding for that facility has not yet been lined up.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 05, 2010

Anti-War Activist Ayers to Retire from UIC

Radical Vietnam War protester William Ayers is retiring after more than 20 years as an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Education Dean Vicki Chou says Ayers' retirement will become official later this month.

Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group held responsible for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

Ayers' past became a political issue during the 2008 presidential campaign because President Barack Obama served with Ayers on the board of a Chicago charity. There's no evidence they were ever close friends.

Chou said Ayers' retirement had nothing to do the controversy surrounding him, adding he was a "good colleague'' and hundreds of students cherish they were taught by him.

A spokesman for the university said Thursday that Ayers would not be available for comment.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 05, 2010

Coal Company Promises Less Invasive Excavation Technique

A spokeswoman for an Indiana-based coal company says she wants to set some minds at ease as its officials evaluate land in Champaign and Vermilion Counties for a possible underground mine.

Suzanne Jaworowski with Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal says the mining technique they would use if they open a coal mine on the Champaign-Vermilion county border would not damage farmland. She says the company plans to use a room-and-pillar approach, which leaves the surface area intact and sustains it by only removing a certain portion of the coal undernearth. Farmers in the affected area south of Homer have been concerned that Sunrise would use what's called 'longwall' mining. Jaworowski says that technique carries the potential for damaging the land by removing large portions of coal at once.

Jaworoski says Sunrise plans to pursue a permit for work that would not result in subsidence or ground sinking as a result of building the underground mine. She says the company will release more information on its plans in the next week.

Sunrise Coal operates a coal mine in Carlisle, Indiana. the company is a subsidiary of Hallador Energy.

On Tuesday night... Champaign County Board members tabled discussion on zoning regulations for the mine. Board members say they first want to research how other counties have handled zoning for coal mines.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Tech Changes Coming to the U of I

The University of Illinois plans to revamp its communication services for faculty and staff members.

Services like e-mail, phone, and instant messaging are offered through different providers, but in about two years, the U of I plans to consolidate those services through the computer company, Microsoft. This is expected to save about $3 million each year. Charley Kline is the Information Technology Architect for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services (CITES), which offers technical services at the U of I. While the plan is being sold as a cost-saving measure, Kline said that it is also a sign that times are changing.

"When you think about the phone system that we use, it's basically 1960s, 1970s technology," he said. "It hasn't changed much in about 50 years."

The new telephone service will made available through Microsoft and carried on a computer program. People who are not ready to make the switch from a telephone to a computer will be able to use a special receiver that is compatible with this new service.

The U of I also has plans to fully automate its campus directory line by November, rather than having a live operator available during the day. It has already started to scale back on campus operators. CITES' associate director, Janet Jones, said the actual number of campus operators has been declining over the years.

"More and more customers are using online technology," said Jones.

In the last month, the number of operators has been cut from five to one, and the final operator is expected to retire in November. Jones said other colleges and universities have already made similar changes to their directory systems.

Categories: Education, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Number of IL Families on Food Stamps Jumps 12 Percent, Sets New Record

Elizabeth Garcia says food stamps allow her to feed her three children.

The Mahomet woman's family is one of the record 780,000 Illinois households who relied on food stamps in June. The state Department of Human Services says the economy is the primary reason more people than ever are using food stamps.

Garcia's family lives mainly on her boyfriend's $540 a month in restaurant wages. She hasn't been able to find work. The 32-year-old says food stamps mean her kids eat healthy food.

But Alana Sykes of Rantoul found out Monday that even her unemployment benefits are too high for her to qualify. Sykes lost her job in state layoffs late last year. And she says those unemployment benefits aren't enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Quinn Provides New Detail on 2011 Budget Cuts

Gov. Pat Quinn has provided new details on his plans to slash state spending, including the decision to cut far more from social services.

The agency that handles Medicaid will lose $216 million, or about 2.7 percent. Last month, Quinn said the agency would be one of the few to actually get more money. The Department of Human Services is being cut by $576 million, or 14 percent. Originally, the department was going to lose just $312 million. Funding for higher education is listed at more than 2.1 billion dollars in 2011, a $105 million dollar decrease. The governor's office says much of that decrease is in the form of federal stimulus money that won't be received next year.

Illinois faces the worst budget deficit in state history, roughly $12 billion. Quinn plans at least $1.4 billion in spending cuts to help reduce the shortfall.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Champaign County Board Wants More Info on Coal Mines Elsewhere

Champaign County Board members will take at least a month to review the prospect of a coal mine located below farmland in the southeast part of the county.

The County Board's Committee of the Whole has asked County Zoning Administrator John Hall to look into what other counties have done to locate and zone mines. Board members tabled discussion on the issue until September. It is still not clear if the county's zoning ordinance would have to be amended, or could block the mine. Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal has started purchasing mineral rights for locating a mine on Champaign County's border with Vermilion County, in an area south of Homer. County Board member Steve Beckett said doing some homework away from board meetings will let members make some headway on the issue.

"Right now, we have this loosey-goosey collection of anecdotal comments from board members who've had phone calls with people and worried public, etc," said Beckett. "And it's almost as if we're like this little knitting circle, and 'let's all talk about mining and how terrible it is.' I don't find that to be very fruitful and helpful to me as a board member."

Critics of the plan include Vermilion County farmer Charles Goodall. He said he believes the resulting waste water from washing coal on site would leave toxic elements in the soil and groundwater. A resident of Broadlands, Heather Soder, said she wants Sunrise to be more upfront about its plans for waste products in the mine, and its impact on well water.

Soder said she spoke with someone from the company who could not answer her questions. Sunrise has not returned calls to comment.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 03, 2010

Decatur’s Tate & Lyle Reportely Considering Moving US Headquarters

A newspaper article in the Chicago area has leaders in Decatur worrying about the status of a major employer.

British company Tate & Lyle can trace its roots in Decatur back to 1909 and the A. E. Staley Company. Its US headquarters is in one of the city's tallest buildings, next to its factory on Decatur's east side. But Crain's Chicago Business reported yesterday that Tate & Lyle has taken interest in an office building in suburban Hoffman Estates.

A Tate and Lyle spokeswoman has told media outlets that no decision has been made on a headquarters move. But Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady says economic development leaders need to keep in touch with the company to press the argument for staying where it is.

"Tate and Lyle would at this point not confirm that they were looking at any buildings in Hoffman Estates, just that they are looking at all of their business functions," McCrady said. "So I imagine that time is of the essence, and we're going to move as fast as possible."

McCrady says that includes reminding the company of Decatur's quality-of-life benefits for employees. But he says there may not be many economic incentives for the city to offer if Tate and Lyle moves within the state of Illinois.

Tate and Lyle employs up to 800 people in Decatur, but McCrady says that includes both the headquarters and the factory, and the factory location is not in question.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 02, 2010

Economic Index Shows Improvement, but It’s Still a Long Way Up for IL

The July reading of the University of Illinois Flash Economic Index was 91.6. That's three tenths of a percent better than the measurement for June, but economist Fred Giertz says it's still well below the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction.

Giertz says Illinois and the nation are mired in the longest and deepest recession since the end of World War II, and it will take time to recover. He says the state's unemployment rate is falling but still above the national rate.

The Flash Index measures state collections each month from personal income, corporate and sales taxes - it found that while income and sales tax revenue were down in July, corporate tax receipts were up.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 31, 2010

Flooding Disrupts Unemployment Telephones

The Illinois Department of Employment Security is urging Illinois residents who need to certify for unemployment insurance benefits to do so through the Internet, rather than the telephone.

IDES said Friday that flooding at a telephone switching station in Chicago has interrupted its telephone service, but not its Internet access. Department spokesman Greg Rivera said that although the outage blamed on recent heavy rains is only local, it has interrupted telephone certifications statewide.

Certifying for the benefits is required before unemployment payments can be issued.

Rivera said Internet certification can be accomplished at www.ides.state.il.us. He said applicants should use a drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the Web site.

Rivera said people without Internet access are encouraged to go to a local library or their local IDES office.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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