As session end nears, state legislators consider range of environmental bills
As Illinois' spring legislative session comes to a close this week, representatives are busy moving bills to meet Friday's scheduled adjournment -- among them an array of environmental legislation.
The bills include funding to improve soil health, legislation advocates have dubbed the Environmental Justice Act, and a ban on Styrofoam. Here's a roundup of what has already passed both chambers and what environmental advocates are keeping their eyes on this week.
• One bill looks to tackle soil health issues and gain long-term funding for the Partners for Conservation Fund, which supports farmers who practice conservation agriculture such as utilizing cover crops. Such practices enhance soil health by keeping soil in place, reducing nutrient loss and erosion.
Environmental advocates have cited a dust storm earlier this month that led to a chain of car crashes and eight deaths in central Illinois. It was loose soil from freshly plowed farm fields, combined with dry conditions and high winds, that created the plumes of dust and near-zero visibility that led to the crashes, weather experts said.
"That dust storm was just incredibly tragic. I think there are pieces to look at with the way we treat our soil," Jen Walling, the executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council said. "We need to keep our soil where it's at, and that requires some important practices like cover crops and reduced tilling. The bill would help the soil stay where it's supposed to stay."
The legislation, which passed both chambers Tuesday, would extend the fund to 2032. It is now in the Senate awaiting concurrence on a House amendment.
• A second environmental bill that has passed both chambers requires new drinking fountains to include a water bottle filling station. The bill would take effect only in places where the state plumbing code already calls for drinking fountains.
"Not only do all Illinoisans need and deserve clean, accessible and affordable water, but they increasingly seek more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics that help address our plastic pollution problem and the climate crisis," Walling said in a statement following the bill's passage last week.
The bill will now go to the governor's desk.
• In another move to reduce single-use plastic, the House passed a bill Tuesday to ban the use of food containers made from polystyrene foam -- more commonly known as Styrofoam -- at state agencies and universities. If passed in the Senate during concurrence and signed by the governor, the ban will go into effect in 2025.
"Plastic waste litters our communities, our ecosystems and now also shows up in our drinking water and our bodies. State government should set an example by reducing and ultimately eliminating plastic foam waste in our state, and today the state House took an important step toward that goal," said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin in a statement. "We urge the Illinois Senate to send this bill to Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week and bring us one step closer to an Illinois free of plastic pollution."
A similar but more far-reaching bill that would have prohibited all retailers from selling or distributing single-use foodware made of polystyrene foam passed the House in March but stalled in the Senate.
Walling said the latter chamber wanted to have a longer discussion, and she expects the measure to come up again next year.
• Another bill that advocates dubbed the Environmental Justice Act fell short in the House Wednesday by just three votes.
The legislation would have tightened industrial air pollution permitting, requiring companies looking to build large industrial facilities to complete a cumulative community impact report as well as conduct a public meeting prior to applying for a permit. The measure would have applied specifically to potential construction that would become a "major source" of air pollution subject to the Clean Air Act Permit Program.
"There's been a lot of opposition," Walling said. "I think that heavy industry wants to continue to do what it's been doing, and this is a challenge to that. They would like to see weaker rules, and that's a problem."
• One bill that has drawn mixed support and opposition among environmentalists would lift a 30-year moratorium on building new nuclear sites. The legislation is hanging on, having cleared the Senate in March.
It now awaits action from the House, though whether it will get called for a vote before Friday's adjournment remains to be seen.
• 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 dailyherald.com/rfa.