There isn’t often much good news concerning the environment these days; therefore, it is important to celebrate what we can. One example of rare good news is Illinois’ passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) last year, which became effective on June 1, 2017. FEJA is a landmark work of legislation that will increase the number of clean energy projects in Illinois, create jobs, and improve energy efficiency across the state. Successful implementation of the act will make Illinois a national leader in clean energy and energy efficiency. In order to educate the public about FEJA and other environmental topics in our community, the local Sierra Club hosted a town hall meeting at the Illinois Terminal on September 11. The event was headlined by speeches from Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin, Champaign Mayor Deborah Feinen, and State Senator Scott Bennett. It also featured talks from a UIUC policy student, Urbana’s Environmental Sustainability Manager, a representative from the Citizens Utility Board, and the many of the groups co-sponsoring the event.
Mayor Marlin was the first to speak. She listed many of the environmental accomplishments that Urbana has made in its history, from stopping the Allerton Park dam project decades ago to the recent opening of the Kickapoo Rail Trail. She is clearly very proud of Urbana’s environmental work, and with good reason. Marlin (as well as Champaign Mayor Feinen) are a part of the U.S. Conference of Climate Mayors, and she hopes that Urbana can reach 100% clean energy in its municipal buildings and streetlights by 2025. Feinen was up next, and also took time to highlight Champaign’s pro-environment achievements and projects. Among these are the city’s completely LED traffic lights, the steady 14 minute average commute time even as Champaign’s population has increased, and work done with the Prairie Rivers Network to protect the monarch butterfly. She also noted that Champaign is a Keep America Beautiful city.
Senator Bennett followed Mayor Feinen, and used his time to highlight three main environmental issues that he is working on in Springfield right now, many with State Representative Carol Ammons. The first issue is the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, which was approved by the Illinois Senate and House in May, and whose members are currently being selected. The task force was created to develop a plan and recommend legislation to protect the aquifer. The second issue Bennett highlighted was the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, which is Illinois’ only National Wild and Scenic River. There is a great level of concern from the Prairie Rivers Network, the Illinois EPA, and others over deposits of coal ash stored close to the banks of the river. Finally, Bennett discussed FEJA and where progress with the implementation currently is. He also commended the lobbying done by environmental groups to get the legislation passed.
It was very encouraging to hear about the progress that is being made both locally and statewide – and also to see almost all the seats in the room full of engaged and concerned citizens. Though the town hall was largely educational and didn’t offer much of an opportunity for the public to voice concerns or suggestions, citizens caring enough to educate themselves is an important part of the process of civic engagement. Hopefully, more town halls concerning clean energy and other environmental issues will be held in Champaign-Urbana in the near future. It is clear that the community cares about these issues, and providing space to discuss them is an essential function of good government.
– By: Laura Schultz