Chicago communities win in a mixed Great Lakes news week
There was a lot of Great Lakes action this week that I’ll label the good, the bad and the unknown.
The good is that Chicago’s two antique coal-fired power plants are closing sooner than expected.
They were scheduled for shutdown in 2018 but that date has advanced to 2014 based on a deal the plant’s operators made with Chicago. The plants bordered on the largely Hispanic Pilsen and Little Village communities where citizens have long expressed outrage. They complain that the plants would have been shut long ago had they been located near a more affluent neighborhood.
Several environmental groups had sued the plant’s operator for violation of the Clean Air Act and those suits will now be dropped as part of the deal.
Given their location and the toxic nature of the emissions, it is hard to overstate the positive impact of the plant closings.
“The decision to retire these dinosaurs will have important positive impacts on Chicago, Chicagoans and Lake Michigan” says Josh Mogerman, media director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago. The Council is one of the groups that sued the plants.”The mess coming out of those smokestacks also impacted the Great Lakes,” he said
The bad news relates to the split-personality of the Obama administration on actions relevant to invasive species and the Great Lakes. Remember, this administration has said that it would have “zero-tolerance” for invasive species.
In seeming rapid fire succession the administration:
- announced it was budgeting $51 million this year to fight Asian carp.
- released a draft ballast water permit that had environmental groups threatening legal action because after years, the permit offers only a small incremental improvement.
- again prevailed before the Supreme Court against Michigan and other Great Lakes states who want Chicago’s locks leading to Lake Michigan closed. The locks are seen as the last line of defense against the advancing carp.
The $51 million to fight Asian carp is necessary and commendable but only continues a reaction instead of a prevention policy.
The shipping industry is pleased with the EPA’s draft ballast water permit, which means environmental groups aren’t.
But the Supreme Court ruling may not be as onerous as it seems.
The Supreme Court decision is not surprising, says Nick Schroeck who runs Wayne State University’s Environmental Law Center in Detroit. It’s a tough venue to crack with a case like this. Of more importance is that Michigan’s public nuisance suit on the broader issues regarding Asian carp is still proceeding, he said.
An appeals court has ruled that Asian carp would likely cause significant harm if they become established in the Great Lakes. That’s a key ruling that allows the case to go forward with a chance of success, Schroeck said.
Finally, an unknown.
Flying well below the radar this week is the introduction of a bill in the Minnesota legislature that would make it easier for Minnesota to sell water. More specifically, the description of the bill contains the following – …”setting standards for diversion or sale of water of the state … ”
The introduction of “sale” appears to be new and what is the motivation behind the bill? Does Minnesota have potential out-of-state buyers of water in mind and now wants to craft legislation to permit a sale?
How does the proposed legislation relate to the Great Lakes Compact? Could it be another ding in the compact’s armor? We’ve already seen that the states have little stomach for implementing some of the compact’s provisions.
Right now there are more questions than answers on Minnesota’s water sale legislation. But an immediate inquiry is warranted about Minnesota’s intent. Waiting to see what happens is never a good idea when it comes to selling the region’s water.
Finally, yes, I know, because my inbox has been inundated with tweets and press releases – this week featured Great Lakes Day in D.C.
The Great Lakes intelligentsia – commissions, environmentalists and agency staffers – gathered for the annual lobbying confab which this year featured a visit to mingle with and listen to administration staffers at the White House.
It’s good and necessary work.
But honestly, whatever happened in D.C. is unlikely to have the impact that the closing of the two coal-fired power plants will have. At least not now.
If you don’t believe me, just ask those residents of Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village communities.
They live amidst the polluting plants, not in the rarefied air next to the Potomac.
They don’t have a lot of access to the White House.