March 05, 2013

Decatur, ADM Agree on Water Wells

Decatur and its biggest water user have reached a deal to ease strain on the local water supply if a drought like last year's returns. The Decatur City Council on Monday approved a deal with agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland Co.

The agreement lets the company sink a pair of large wells that could provide 7 million gallons of water a day.

The Herald and Review in Decatur reports that the wells would be used during water-use restrictions.

ADM draws more 14 million gallons of water out of Lake Decatur every day.  Decatur is the Fortune 500 company's headquarters.

Last summer the city enacted drought restrictions that limited how much water local residents and businesses could use. ADM wasn't affected but took its own steps to reduce consumption.

February 21, 2013

"Fracking" Bill Filed in Illinois

The controversial oil and gas drilling process known as "fracking" could soon be coming to Illinois. Environmentalists and industry groups Thursday announced they had reached an agreement on legislation to regulate the practice.

Hydraulic fracturing pumps massive amounts of water and other chemicals deep into the ground, cracking rocks and releasing oil or natural gas. Backers, like Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, said it is important for economic growth.

"It's going to create jobs, it's going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and it's going to lead to low cost of energy for businesses and consumers for many decades to come," he said.

But environmentalists say there are significant questions about the safety of fracking, from water contamination to the possibility of man-made earthquakes.

Ann Alexander with the Natural Resources Defense Council said she wants the issue studied further. But she recognized that, like it or not, fracking is coming to Illinois.

"And for that reason, it is critical that we have protections in place to protect the public, and to protect our air and water," Alexander said.

Thus, environmentalists are agreeing to these regulations. They say they are the toughest in the U.S. If the proposal becomes law, backers hope fracking will be underway by the end of the year.

“Today’s proposal is good news for Southern Illinois and our entire state’s economy," said Gov. Pat Quinn. "This legislation has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to Southern Illinois, while also ensuring that Illinois has the nation’s strongest environmental protections."

Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) and Rep. David Reis (R-Olney) filed the bill Thursday.

Supporters of hydraulic fracturing believe the bill has a good shot because it was negotiated by officials from industry and agriculture, environmentalists, lawmakers and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

February 18, 2013

Gas Prices on the Rise in Recent Weeks

Gasoline prices in Champaign-Urbana were higher than the Illinois average earlier this month, and then started going down, counter to state and national trends.

But the gasoline price tracking website said Champaign-Urbana gas prices started going up against around Valentine’s day.

Currently the average price of a gallon of Regular in Champaign-Urbana is currently around $3.78 per gallon --- lower than the Illinois average, but higher than the national average.

GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan said hikes in gasoline prices are typical this time of year, as refineries reduce their output so they can perform seasonal maintenance.

“Refineries slow down production at their facilities, so they can take part of them offline to perform upgrades and other maintenance as they see fit,” DeHaan said. “And because of those upgrades and that maintenance, gasoline production takes a bit of a hit until they’re done performing that maintenance.”

But DeHaan said the refinery slowdown and resulting hike in gas prices came earlier than it had in recent years.  He thinks the early increase does not bode well for the spring, when prices tend to go up the most.

February 18, 2013

CUB: Alternative Electric Suppliers Cut Costs

Illinois residents saved up to 218 million dollars on their electric bills last year thanks to competition in the market. However, that is expected to shift this summer, and a consumer watchdog group is voicing its early concerns.

For a long time, Illinois residents did not have any choice about where their electricity came from. It was supplied by either Commonwealth Edison, or Ameren.  Now residents have a few dozen options.

A new report from the Citizens Utility Board, or CUB, said since 2010, 1.7 million households switched suppliers, and they saved a lot of money doing it.

But in June, ComEd and Ameren will be freed from long-term contracts that locked in higher rates.

CUB's Jim Chilsen said that means alternative suppliers' price advantage will disappear.

"It's going to be really important that as this time nears, that people just be aware," Chilsen said. "It could be very well be possible that some competing suppliers get very desperate, and we see an uptick in misleading marketing."

Chilsen said CUB's concerned competing suppliers may try to grab new customers by offering low introductory rates, only for those rates to skyrocket later.  He said other companies are charging early termination fees.

Chilsen cautions consumers to do their research. He said if alternative suppliers want to succeed, they need to get creative - like with programs such as real-time pricing for electricity

The Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, D.C.
(Daniel M.N. Turner/NPR)
February 18, 2013

Protesters Call On Obama to Reject Keystone XL Pipeline

Tens of thousands of protesters turned out on the National Mall Sunday to encourage President Obama to make good on his commitment to act on climate change.

In his Inaugural address from outside the U.S. Capitol, the president said: "We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

Just a few weeks later, next to the Washington Monument, Paul Birkeland was one of a couple dozen people holding a long white tube above their heads.

"It's a backbone. It's a spine. The idea is to ask the president to have some spine and stand up to oil companies. And reject the Keystone Pipeline," Birkeland says.

The activists are focusing on the Keystone XL pipeline because it would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. To make this oil, companies use complex extraction and processing techniques that use a lot of energy. So it has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional crude.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island told the crowd that Congress is sleepwalking through the crisis on climate change. But he said protesters have an important ally.

"There's a man over there in the White House, he has found his voice on climate change. Are we going to have his back," Whitehouse asked.

Other speakers sounded less sure of the president's intentions.

Van Jones, a former adviser to President Obama, says that it would be disastrous if the project gets a green light.

"It would be like lighting a fuse on a carbon bomb — that's what it would be like Mr. President," Jones says.

The Obama administration already let the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline go ahead. The State Department is expected to decide soon on the part that would cross the border from Canada and stretch to Oklahoma.

Organizers say it was the biggest climate rally ever in the United States. They claim about 35,000 people participated — although there was no independent crowd count.

The crowd did stretch for several blocks as it made its way around the White House. Despite a cold wind and snow flurries, parents brought along young children.

Heather Clark wrapped her two toddlers in a sleeping bag and put them in their stroller.

"Events like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina and everything that I've been reading lately says it's happening. And if we don't do something really, really soon we're all going to be in a state where we don't recognize the planet where we live," Clark says.

Buses brought college students from many states to the National Mall.

Will Jones, was one of them, traveling overnight from Eastern Michigan University. He thinks the president is under a lot of pressure from oil companies.

"Now is the time for him to man up a little bit and make a decision. That's what he's in office to do," Jones says.

But some energy experts say environmentalists are focusing too much on Keystone. They argue that even if that pipeline isn't built, Canadian Tar sands oil will find another way to flow.

Retired Army Col. Dan Nolan represents a group of national security experts called Operation Free. He says there are clear national security benefits to getting more oil from Canada.

"We're putting America's sons and daughters at risk by having to protect oil production capability in the Middle East," Nolan says.

The real challenge he says is to shift the world off oil and other fossil fuels.


February 13, 2013

Coal Company Says Mine Will Proceed Despite Homer Vote

A spokeswoman for an Indiana coal company says its plans for a mine near Homer will continue despite this week’s vote against a water contract.

Village trustees voted 3-2 Monday against selling treated water and sewer services to Carlisle, Indiana-based Sunrise Coal, but spokeswoman Suzanne Jaworowski said the company has alternatives for getting water, and mine development will proceed.

“We do have over 100 landowners who have leased their mineral rights to the project, and that represents over 19,000 acres of mineral rights,” she said.  “But the surface area for the property would be roughly 400 acres, which isn’t really a whole lot.  And we look forward to bringing 300 jobs to the area.”

Jaworowski said the company still expects to operate its mine by 2014.

Monday’s vote brought out cheers from opponents concerned about groundwater and air quality. They include the Prairie Rivers Network. The group’s Traci Barkley said Sunrise is limited by geography to determine where it will go next for water, since the site of the mine is already set.

Barkley said in many areas, the water supply could not provide the several thousand gallons of water needed.

“I think right now with this public victory with so many people standing up and pointing out why this is not a good idea for the future of their community, the future of their farmland, and really, with their limited water supplies," Barkley said. "I think they’re going to have a hard time finding other folks ready to engage in what Homer has gone through in the last 12 months.”

Barkley said it makes sense that Sunrise would proceed, but she said it is not the time to make large water requests in the wake of the 2012 drought.

February 11, 2013

North Korea Says It Has Conducted 3rd Nuclear Test

North Korea successfully detonated a miniaturized nuclear device at a northeastern test site Tuesday, state media said, defying U.N. Security Council orders to shut down atomic activity or face more sanctions and international isolation.

The underground explosion could take North Korea a big step closer to its goal of building a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile that could threaten the United States.

Official state media said the test was conducted in a safe manner and is aimed at coping with "outrageous" U.S. hostility that "violently" undermines the North's peaceful, sovereign rights to launch satellites. North Korea faced sanctions after a December launch of a rocket the U.N. and Washington called a cover for a banned missile test.

The North said it used a "lighter, miniaturized atomic bomb" that still has more explosive force than past tests.

The United States Geological Survey said earlier Tuesday that it had detected a 4.9 magnitude earthquake in North Korea.

The nuclear test is North Korea's first since leader Kim Jong Un took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and marks a bold statement for the young leader as he unveils his domestic and foreign policy for a country long estranged from the West.

Experts say regular tests are needed to perfect North Korea's goal of building nuclear warheads small enough to be placed on long-range missiles. This atomic test — North Korea's third since 2006 — is expected to take Pyongyang closer to possessing nuclear-tipped missiles designed to strike the United States.

February 11, 2013

Homer Board Rejects Water Contract for Mine

Homer Village Board members have rejected a contract to provide treated water and sewer services for the purpose of setting up a coal mine.

The 3-2 vote by trustees Monday night essentially ends talks between the village and Sunrise Coal.

The contract for treated water and sewer services needed four votes to pass. Trustee Mike Johnson voted 'no' after voting 'yes' in prior meetings. 

Some of the roughly 60 people present cheered following the vote, including Traci Barkley with Prairie Rivers Network, who called the decision ‘huge.’

“I think he (Johnson) listened to the people of Homer, and the rural community, and this is just huge to have him stand up for the community, the future, the ag economy that exists is strong as it is right now, and this might just be the end of Sunrise Coal in the community,” Barkley said.

Large numbers of opponents have come to village board meetings out of concern for Homer's groundwater quality, air pollution, and the value of farmland.

"I think it was a collective effort," said Homer resident Susan Forsyth. "Between Stand Up to Coal, and my online petition, and the community's support, it really made this happen."

Johnson said he wasn’t sure he supported the coal mine itself, but had thought about voting yes as a source of income for the village. But Johnson said the turning point for him was Sunrise’s ‘hidden’ request regarding water amounts, noting the company originally requested 4,000 gallons of treated water a day.

“They told us at one time that was the maximum high side that they’d use, and all of a sudden it’s 20,000,” he said. “I had concerns with them changing something that drastic – what else are they hiding.”

Village Trustee Guy James was absent Monday night, but had voted against the contract in each prior meeting.  

Mayor David Lucas, who voted for the water contract to break a 3-3 straw poll vote about a month ago, said Sunrise will be moving on, and that  the village lost about $40,000 annually for its water system.

“They’re going to go somewhere else and they’re going to get water, and they’re going to build a coal mine, and Homer is going to lose," he said.

Trustees Roy Woodmansee and Kevin Knott also voted 'no' Monday, but had in the straw poll a few weeks earlier. Trustees Ray Cunningham and Larry Mingee voted for the water contract.

Sunrise officials left the village building immediately after the vote, declining to comment.

February 10, 2013

Homer Board to Consider Water Contract for Mine

Nearly a month after a straw poll kept talks going, the Homer Village Board is expected to vote Monday on a coal mining company’s request for treated water.

On January 14th, Homer Mayor David Lucas broke a 3-3 tie in a straw poll between board members, favoring the contract, continuing talks with Sunrise Coal.  He said discussions had come too far not to see this contract come to a vote.

Lucas says regardless of how residents feel about coal mining, Monday's vote is simply about the sale of treated water and sewer services, and Homer has the water and well capacity to sell water at a time when people are using less of it and the village needs the income.

“I have tried to separate this as more of a business arrangement, a regular sale of water to a company, and tried to stay out of the debate on whether coal is good, bad, evil, a necessity," he said.  "I tried to look at it strictly as a water sale, a utility sale for the village.”

Negotiations with Sunrise have gone on for six months, and Homer Village Board meetings have brought large crowds concerned about damage to groundwater, private wells, and air pollution.   The contract calls for about 20,000 gallons in treated water a day.  Lucas says there’s no discussion yet with Sunrise on a separate contract for hundreds of thousands gallons of raw water.

Homer resident Suzanne Smith does say the extra time taken by village trustees has allowed them to weigh all the issues involved. 

But Smith says a yes vote on the treated water contract Monday enables the mine, since it’s one of the requirements.  

“Since they think it’s inevitable they want to be able to cash in on whatever they can while it’s here," she said.  "We just disagree on that.  And they’re looking at their fiscal responsibility but I do think that it is shortsighted in short term.”

The contract for raw water would be seeking hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day.  At that point, Smith says the Champaign County Board could get involved, since that contract could involve the Salt Fork River. 

The Homer Village Board meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the village building's Jackson Ellis community room.

January 26, 2013

Ameren Seeks Higher Gas Delivery Rates

Ameren Illinois has filed a request with the Illinois Commerce Commission to raise its delivery rates on natural gas. The company says it seeks an additional $50 million in cost recovery for delivering natural gas to customers.

If approved, the rate hike would affect about 813,000 homes and businesses in downstate Illinois that buy gas from Ameren.

A news release from Ameren says the rate increases they seek would result in typical Ameren Illinois residential customers paying an additional $2.52 a month in Rate Zone 1, $4.00 for Rate Zone 2 and $2.87 for Rate Zone 3.

Ameren says if approved, the new gas delivery rates would not take effect before late December, 2013. The rates were last increased in January 2012.

The Citizens Utility Board is reviewing the Ameren rate increase request. The consumer watchdog group says on its website that it will “fight every penny the company can’t justify” in its request before the ICC.

Page 3 of 17 pages  < 1 2 3 4 5 > Last ›