Illinois to consider light pollution law

In what would be a first step toward darker skies in Illinois, state representatives may consider a bill this session that would regulate lighting at roads, buildings and other spaces that fall under the Department of Natural Resources.

The legislation’s sponsor, Naperville Democrat Sen. Laura Ellman, introduced the Outdoor Lighting Control Act this legislative session after learning about light pollution’s dangerous effects on wildlife — particularly birds. With the Chicago metro area smack in the middle of one of the continent’s major bird migratory routes, the artificial lights of the urban landscape is a major contributor to bird deaths.

Recent research from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology named Chicago the most dangerous city for migrating birds. A total of five million birds, representing more than 250 species, pass through the city each spring and fall.

“I've always been a bird fan,” Ellman said. “I'm interested in ways that we can save bird populations and possibly bring them back. There's a lot of different ways that we could do it, and dark skies is one.”

According to a 2021 study out of the Audubon Society, turning off half of the lighted windows during spring and fall migration could reduce bird deaths on Chicago’s lakeshore by 60 percent.

But Ellman’s bill would restrict lighting only for new projects out of the state Department of Natural Resources, whether it’s a building renovation or parking lot construction. The bill originally proposed regulating the lighting on or in all new state-owned or funded roads, buildings and other spaces, but Ellman admended the legislation to limit the scope.

“My intent is to expand it over the course of the years,” she said. “We're going to start small, see how it goes. Things in Springfield are incremental, so we'll start here and then expand the requirements to more and more agencies so that Illinois can take the lead on something that I think is just starting to take hold and gain interest around the country.”

Ellman, who chairs the environment and conservation committee, said she hopes to have the bill assigned and passed out of committee before April.

‘I want people to care about the night’: Advocates are working to fix light pollution in Chicago area

Meanwhile, dark skies advocates say the bill is one small step in what is a multi-pronged approach to tackle the challenging field of light pollution abatement.

Ken Walczak, a senior manager at the Adler Planetarium, said advocates face two main roadblocks: Most people don’t see light as pollution, and the societal preconception is actually that more light is better.

“In fact, there's no legal definition for light as a pollutant, which kind of hamstrings a lot of efforts,” Walczak said. “This is where the baby steps are fine. ... You need to bring awareness to the argument before you can make all the changes you want.”

Walczak, who is also a board member of nonprofit DarkSky International and co-founder of the local DarkSky Chicago chapter, added there is a ways to go before people realize the full extent of light pollution, which not only disrupts wildlife, but affects human health, contributes to climate change and — perhaps most convincingly — costs money.

“I realized when we submitted the legislation draft that it was going to be a challenge,” he said. “There definitely is an information deficit when it comes to light at night.”

Alongside working with Ellman to craft the legislation, DarkSky International is also working on model legislation that would essentially serve as a template for states or other bodies of government that are looking to regulate their outdoor lighting.

Walczak emphasized that the technical language offered by the organization, including its five principles for responsible outdoor lighting, has been approved by the Illuminating Engineering Society.

“These recommendations are not just driven by DarkSky concerns. They’re also based on illuminating engineering standards,” he said.

• Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

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