From AP - News Headlines -

Illinois EPA Chief Announces Local Fund, Discusses CAFO Regulation

Illinois EPA Chief Doug Scott came to Champaign County Wednesday to announce funding for three local projects aimed at cleaning up local air and water.

Scott visited the Champaign-Urbana MTD bus garage to announce a $445,000 Clean Diesel grant --- backed by federal stimulus money --- to retrofit 43 diesel buses with special exhaust filters designed to keep diesel particulate from getting into the outside air.

"They capture about 90 percent of the diesel sub-particulates, and 75-80 percent of the hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emitted from diesel engines," Scott said. "This will provide more clean air for the employees and also for the public, the staff, the students at the U of I who ride the buses or walk near the bus routes."

The CU-MTD worked with researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences to choose the right filters for their buses and the local climate, as well as setting protocol for installation and maintenance.

While in Urbana, Scott also announced $47 million in federal stimulus and state loans to finance improvements at the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District's Northeast Wastewater Treatment plant in Urbana.

Later, Scott visited the small Champaign County village of Homer, which is receiving more than $10 million dollars in state grants and loans to finance the construction of its first-ever wastewater plant and centralized sewage collection system. The project will replace the individual septic systems currently used by Homer residents and businesses.

During his Urbana stop, Scott also said the Illinois EPA is working to meet a federally imposed deadline for strengthening state regulation of large confined-animal farms, known as confined-animal feeding operations (CAFO).

The federal EPA has given its Illinois counterpart until the end of the month to complete an inventory of the state's CAFO's, overhaul its inspection program and set procedures for investigating citizen complaints.

Scott said his agency has been working on the issue for the last couple of years, and expects to have a "good response" for the federal EPA's demand.

"We take this issue very seriously," Scott said. "We know that these facilities have the potential to cause some large (scale) pollution, and we know that it's important for us to get the best handle we can on that --- both in terms of permitting, but also in terms of enforcement. And that's the steps we have been taking, and what we will continue to do."

A federal EPA report last month found widespread problems with Illinois' oversight of large-scale cattle, hog and chicken operations, and the huge amounts of waste that they produce. The report found state inspection reports that failed to say if a CAFO was following pollution laws or not, and many cases where the state failed to get farms to comply with those laws.

The report also indicated that the Illinois EPA's enforcement powers are too weak. Scott said he will ask state lawmakers next year to give his agency authority that is currently left to the state attorney general.