At an Environmental Town Hall, Legislators and Panelists Discuss Proposals to Make Illinois Green

By Mary Helt Gavin | The Evanston Roundtable

Robyn Gabel has electrifying plans: The State Representative from the 18th District says she would like to see trains all across the State run on electricity, require all new home construction or major renovations include an electric-vehicle charging station, and expand the production and use of electric-powered trucks. To a standing-room-only crowd at the Ecology Center on March 2, she was the first of legislative trio who described their work on sustainable bills over the past year.

Rep. Gabel, State Senator Laura Fine, 9th District, and State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, 17th District, presented legislation they support to make the state greener and the planet more sustainable. Sen. Fine said she is championing legislation to curb the tsunami of plastic here. “Three-hundred million tons of plastics are produced globally each year,” she said. A major culprit is single-use plastic. Pending legislation would ban single-use plastic “except by request” and would create plastic-container depositories statewide, she said. Rep. Gong-Gershowitz’s legislation, HB4888, would make pharmaceutical companies responsible for disposal of their products. She said 77% of all opioids prescribed go unused, and this bill would provide a way for the unused medications to be disposed of safely and at the companies’ expense. Pills thrown into a sink or flushed down a toilet pollute the water, since the chemicals cannot be filtered out.

The Big Green

House Bill 3624, the Clean Energy Jobs Act, would commit Illinois to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030 and having 100% renewable energy by 2050; reducing gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles from the transportation sector; and creating jobs, training and economic opportunity in this transition.

Rep. Gabel said that, although the bill did not pass last year, she had hopes that it would pass this year, because Governor J.B. Pritzker mentioned the bill in his State of the State address.

Noting that the move from using fossil fuels will likely result in loss of jobs, Scott Onque’ of Faith in Place said the job-training for those leaving the fossil-fuel industry will be comprehensive and equitable, offering wrap-around services and placing workers in job near where they live.

At-Home Hacks

A panel composed of Pastor Onque’, Anne McKibbin of Elevate Energy, Andrew Szwak and Ted Haffner of Openlands, and Justin Williams and Caroline Pakenham of the Metropolitan Planning Council and moderated by Kady McFadden of the Sierra Club fielded questions from the audience.

Ms. McKibbin distinguished between energy conservation and energy efficiency. Using less energy by turning off lights in an unused room is an example of conservation; adding insulation to the home will decrease the use of energy, even though the temperature is still  67°, she said.

“The most affordable thing you can do is weatherize your house,” she said. “Use caulk and insulation, and make sure your equipment is up-to-date.”

Mr. Szwak and Mr. Haffner advocate nature-based solutions, such as planting trees. “The Cook County Forest Preserve District has 70,000 acres, which sequester 1.6 million tons of carbon,” Mr. Haffner said.  Deferred maintenance in State parks and local park districts costs the planet, they said, adding “solutions are being worked on.”

Lead in drinking water is a potential problem across the state, said Mr. Williams and Ms. Packenham. Lead often leaches into otherwise clean water via the service line that leads from the public water main into a private residence. In houses built before 1986, the service line itself may be lead, or there may be lead soldering. Some in-home filters are effective against lead, and faucet aerators should be cleaned by soaking in vinegar regularly, as lead can collect there.

The safest thing, Mr. Williams said, is to replace the service line. The Illinois Environmental Council advocates developing a program to replace all lead service lines across the state.

The City of Evanston maintains a database of service lines, and information on the City’s website describes the City’s cost-sharing program to replace lead service lines:

Read the article at the Evanston Round Table.