Environment and conservation briefs: Lead pipes, coal ash, state park fees

Environment and conservation briefs: Lead pipes, coal ash, state park fees

Lead in school drinking water, coal ash legislation, parking fees at Starved Rock State Park

By Jerry Nowicki

Capitol News Illinois


Lead in school drinking water

A study from the nonprofit Illinois Public Interest Research Group gave the state a B- rating for addressing lead in school drinking water, improving from a D grade in 2017.

On Thursday, state Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, advanced the Reduction of Lead Service Lines act, Senate Bill 1532, out of the Senate Environment and Conservation Committee, although she said a further amendment was needed and it will be brought back to the committee for another vote at a later date.

“What we’re working on trying to do with the bill is have water suppliers inventory lead service lines and come up with a plan to replace them,” she told the committee. “It’s complicated and we’re working with lots of different parties on it.”

The PIRG study said most schools and preschools have pipes that contain lead, making them susceptible to leaching contamination.

A state law passed in January of 2017 requires testing for lead in Illinois schools built prior to 1987 within the 2017 year, according to a PIRG press release. Schools built between 1987 and 2000 are required to have tested and submitted results to the Illinois Department of Public Health by the end of 2018.

IDPH requires schools take remediation action for fixtures testing positive for lead.


Coal ash legislation

Legislators discussed a pair of proposals addressing coal ash Thursday, with a House Republican introducing a bipartisan resolution and a Senate Democrat advancing a bill through committee.

Scott Bennett, a Champaign Democrat, advanced Senate Bill 9 out of the Senate Environment and Conservation Committee. The bill would create the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act.

Bennett’s proposal would seek to ensure safe removal of coal ash pits. Currently, the industry can either cap coal ash sites or remove them entirely. Andrew Rayne, a well resources engineer at Prairie Rivers Network, said capping them leaves toxic coal ash near water sources. Bennett’s bill would necessitate removal.

Coal representatives testified of “a number of concerns” at the committee, and the bill passed on a partisan role call with Bennett promising to bring it back for further discussion.

Rep. Michael Marron, a Fithian Republican, said at a press conference for his House Joint Resolution 47 that Dynegy closed a plant near the Vermillion River years ago, leaving 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash in three pits in the area.

“Coal ash contains…serious heavy metals that can be detrimental to the environment,” Marron said. “Being located in the flood plain of a national scenic river, there is also the potential for, at some time in the future, a catastrophic spill into that river.”

Marron’s legislation would create the Illinois Coal Ash Task Force to bring legislators, coal company representatives, environmental experts and the public together to study the effects of coal ash on the Vermilion River and the rest of the state.


Parking fees at Starved Rock State Park

State Sen. Sue Rezin advanced legislation to allow the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to charge parking fees at Starved Rock State Park, with the proceeds being used exclusively at Starved Rock and another nearby state park.

Rezin said 80 percent of the funds would be used for infrastructure needs and trail upkeep, while 20 percent would go to public safety purposes.

“Starved Rock State Park is a gem,” she said, adding the Oglesby park attracted 2.9 million visitors last year, many of them to see the park’s large bald eagle population.

The other park included in the program is Matthiessen State Park, also in Ogelsby, which sees about 500,000 visitors annually.  

A fee structure is not set in the bill, but Rezin said she envisions something in the $5 range, while the bill would also include an option for visitors to buy a season pass for the location.

Rezin, a Morris Republican, advanced Senate Bill 1310 out of the Senate Environment and Conservation Committee unanimously.

Jerry Nowicki

Jerry NowickiJerry Nowicki

Jerry has more than five years of experience in and around state government and nearly 10 years of experience in news. He grew up in south suburban Evergreen Park and received a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and a master’s degree online from Purdue University.

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