Local politicians debate environmental issues

By Paolo Cisneros

Local incumbent representatives and their challengers met at the Urbana City Council Chambers Tuesday night to debate environmental issues. The forum was sponsored by the Sierra Club Prairie Group, an organization that works to raise awareness of issues related to conservation and the environment.

In attendance were state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, her Republican challenger, Frank Calabrese, senior in LAS, state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-52, Phil Bloomer who represented Rep. Tim Johnson, R-15, and Johnson’s Democratic opponent Steve Cox.

The forum lasted nearly an hour and half, during which time each candidate was asked a number of questions prepared by the Sierra Club and audience members regarding their stance on local and global environmental issues.

Over the course of the evening, all of the candidates attempted to portray themselves as being strong on environmental concerns, either through personal histories or, in the case of the incumbents, past legislative work.

On multiple occasions, Calabrese attempted to depict Jakobsson as a political ally of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

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    If they vote for Jakobsson, Calabrese warned, they “will get more of the same.”

    “I want to ensure state politicians can be respectable again in Springfield,” he said.

    Jakobsson responded by distancing herself as much as possible from the policies of the widely unpopular governor.

    She handed out copies of a letter she recently wrote to Blagojevich in which she expresses her dismay at his decision to close several state parks in addition to pointing out numerous policy differences between herself and the governor.

    All candidates stressed conservation as a key component to preserving the local environment.

    “The easiest barrel of oil out there to get is the one we don’t need,” Frerichs said. “If we don’t consume as much, we don’t need as much.”

    Both Calabrese and Jakobsson agreed that state governments must work to set high emission standards for cars and generally help pressure the federal government to become more environmentally responsible.

    Calabrese said he would encourage tax incentives for alternative energy sources while Jakobsson spoke about adjusting the national economy and putting Illinois infrastructure spending towards energy efficiency.

    “I want to do everything I can to make Illinois a leader in this transition,” she said.

    When asked about the Governor’s recent decision to close Kickapoo State Park, Calabrese said the closure could be avoided by prioritization of the state budget.

    “We need to value our state parks,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to raise taxes or fees to keep our state parks open.”

    Jakobsson, on the other hand, spoke about a bill she drafted in conjunction with members of the Sierra Club that would restore funding to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The bill is currently in committee.