Environmental sustainability creates rift between community and lawmakers

In May of this year, state Sens. Mike Frerichs and Chapin Rose, as well as state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, stated their opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to increase oversight at the Clinton landfill. The oversight would have potentially inhibited, but not outright restricted, the dumping of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, known carcinogens and cause of other adverse health effects, into the Mahomet Aquifer. Nearly all of the Champaign-Urbana community’s water comes from this aquifer, and the fear was that it could be contaminated by the landfill.

Now, nearly five months later, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-13, is opposing an announcement made by the EPA to implement new standards for carbon emissions from new power plants, as previously reported by The Daily Illini.

But the constant bellowing smoke and towering smokestacks arising from the Abbott Power Plant on the corner of Oak and Armory may not be the best representation of moving toward clean and sustainable energy. The fact that only three of the plant’s seven boilers are coal fired and that the University recently submitted a permit to burn more eco-friendly biomass fuels, however, shows that at the University and state levels, we are certainly trying to shy away from coal.

Both oppositions to EPA proposals arise from a similar motive: to protect the community. There can’t be the chance of contaminating the community’s most relied upon water supply, and there can’t be a sudden termination of the coal industry when Illinois accounts for 5 percent of total U.S. coal production — a majority from the southern regions.

But Rep. Davis has a rational point: The “war on coal” will essentially hurt coal workers. What he leaves out is that this goal toward sustainable energy will consequently create new jobs in the sustainable energy industry down the road. Peter Whitney, junior in ACES and copresident of the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign, summed up Davis’ sentiments eloquently: “…it’s not a war on employees, it’s not a war on workers, it’s not a war on jobs. We’re trying to create more jobs, we’re trying to create a better future for everybody.”

Whitney also has a point, and his words highlight the dissonance between the agenda of the University and that of Rep. Davis. Because registered student organizations, including Students for Environmental Concerns and UIUC Beyond Coal, have long been pushing for the University to pursue environmental sustainability and reduce or eliminate coal consumption.

In 2008, the University signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, committing the campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. A few years later, the Illinois Climate Action Plan, complemented with support from UIUC Beyond Coal, declared that the Abbott Power Plant must cease burning coal by 2017

In early September, UIUC Beyond Coal addressed the issue of divestment, or removing financial support from harmful coal mining and utilities companies, to the University Board of Trustees. And earlier this month, according to the Daily Illini, the University received a perfect sustainability rating by the Princeton Review, which bases ratings on criteria such as waste practices, methods of transportation and sources of dining hall food.

Rep. Davis’ mission may differ from that of the University, but we can’t forget the community Davis is representing: Champaign, Urbana and the University. His mission is to keep coal to keep jobs, as well as to make sure these proposed standards don’t crossover and apply to existing power plants, rather than just new ones.

But our missions just aren’t the same. The community spoke when the EPA proposed increased oversight at the Clinton landfill. And our University — particularly our student organizations — spoke against Rep. Davis when he condemned new standards for power plants.

Isn’t it time the missions of our community and the individuals representing our community align?

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that state Sens. Mike Frerichs and Chapin Rose, as well as state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, stated their opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to increase oversight at the Clinton landfill. The article should have stated that state Sens. Mike Frerichs and Chapin Rose, as well as state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson stated their opposition to the idea of dumping PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, into the Clinton landfill. The Daily Illini regrets the error