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Brownfield redevelopment funds via Brownfields Redevelopment and Intermodal Promotion Act

8 Jul

The Illinois General Assembly passed the Brownfields Redevelopment and Intermodal Promotion Act, HB 2212, at the end of the 2013 Spring Session.  The statute creates the South Suburban Cook County Brownfield Redevelopment Zone in Posen, Dixmoor, Riverdale, Doloton, Markham, Harvey, Phoenix, South Holland, Hazel Crest, East Hazel Crest, Thornton, and Homewood.  The statute’s goal is to redevelop brownfields in the zone by leveraging the existing infrastructure around the CN Intermodal Terminal and the Union Pacific Intermodal Terminal.  As a result, eligible projects are limited to those classified by the Urban Land Institute as: warehouse distribution, manufacturing (light or metal fabrication), or freight forwarding.  The statute further lists eligible secondary categories under each of those primary categories.

The statute creates the South Suburban Brownfields Advisory Council to oversee implementation of the statute.  The statute would create funds for the Council to distribute by  collecting the incremental individual income tax generated from employees in the zone, up to $3 million annually.  The Council could reimburse eligible developers for a variety of eligible activities, including: environmental studies and remediation; land acquisition and demolition; recruiting and training minority residents of the zone; and, upgrading the public infrastructure.

If you have questions about the advantages of redeveloping brownfields and the Brownfields Redevelopment and Intermodal Promotion Act, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

 

Illinois Benefit Corporation Law passed but not yet effective

5 Sep

Governor Quinn signed the Benefit Corporation bill on August 2, 2012 (Public Act 97-0885).  The new law does not go into effect, however, until January 1, 2013.

Benefit Corporations, also known as B Corps, are a new type of corporation in Illinois which actively adopt a general public benefit or one or more specific public benefits as a corporate goal (or a combination of a general and specific goals).  Legally speaking, this allows B Corps to pursue purposes other than maximizing profits without fear of a shareholder derivative lawsuit and, u nlike L3C s, a B Corp still make significant profits.  From a public relations standpoint, it allows a business to attract like-minded consumers.

The statute places ongoing reporting responsibilities on Benefit Corporations which are undertaken by a Benefit Director and a Benefit Officer.  The statue also creates a “benefit enforcement proceeding” as a means of making sure the general or specific goals of the B Corp are met.

If you have questions about B Corps, wish to create a B Corp, or wish to conert your existing business to a B Corp, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

White House Issues Hydrofracking Executive Order

17 Apr

On April 13, the White House issued an executive order entitled “Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources.”  For the full text of the order click here.  The Executive Order is a direct response to the ever growing number of federal, state, and local agencies that are regulating or contemplating the regulation of hydrofracking.  The order creates an interagency working group, chaired by the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, lists 13 federal agencies that will be represented on the task force, and allows the Chair to appoint members of other agencies as needed.  The task force is charged with coordinating agency policy and information exchange as well as promoting interagency communication with stakeholders.  That being said, the task force does not have any regulatory authority itself.

If you have any questions regarding the interagency working group or hydrofracking, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Hydraulic fracturing in Illinois

5 Apr

The potential environmental damage, primarily groundwater contamination, from capturing natural gas through hydraulic fracturing (aka hydrofracking and fracking) has captured national media attention.  Most of that attention has been focused on current events in Pennsylvania, although the Marcellus Shale present in Pennsylvania also extends under New York, Ohio and West Virginia.  That being said, hydraulic fracturing was utilized previously in numerous other western states such as Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.  Now it appears that there is the potential for hydraulic fracing to occur in downstate Illinois where the New Albany shale formation is located as oil and gas companies are currently moving to secure mineral leases on properties over this formation.

Hydraulic fracturing utilizes custom blends of water and various chemicals, the exact formulation of which are closely guarded secrets.   When injected under high pressure the fracking fluid cracks the bedrock such that otherwise trapped natural gas can escape and be collected.  Environmental concerns have revolved primarily around groundwater contamination by the natural gas or the fracking fluid and the disposal of fracking fluid.  One of the more notable claims of groundwater contamination was shown in the documentary Gasland in which tapwater was ignited.  The exact source of the natural gas in well water can be difficult to determine.  Shale and coal formulations can have naturally occuring methane (one only needs to consider the number of explosions in underground coal mines).  Often the methane is produced by naturally occuring methanogen bacteria.

In 2005, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to exclude from regulation “the underground injuect of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.”  However, the change in political climate as well as the extension of fracking to the eastern U.S. has put hydrofracking under renewed scrutiny.  On the federal level, a US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority report released in April 2011, Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing, concluded that 650 of the fracking fluid products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants.  US EPA is undertaking a scientific study with initial results in 2012 and an additional report due in 2014.  Many state and local governments are not waiting for federal oversight.  Instead, they are implementing their own statutes and regulations to ban or regulate the practice.

If you have any questions regarding hydrofracking or hydrofracking in Illinois, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Greenhouse Gas Performance Standards for New Stationary Sources

4 Apr

On March 27, 2012, Lisa Jackson (the EPA Administrator) signed a notice that the agency will propose a new rule to implement Greenhouse Gas (GHG) performance standards for new electric utility generating units which the agency has dubbed a “Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants.”  The proposed regulation has not yet been published in the Federal Register and, thus, the notice period for comments has not commenced.  That being said, EPA has already made the draft language publicly available as well as provided summary fact sheets.

As noted above, the rule would only apply to new plants and would not apply to currently operating and newly permitted plants that begin construction over the next year.  Furthermore, the plant would only apply to fossil-fuel electrical utility generating units (EGUs), inlcuding fossil-fuel-fired boilers, integrated gasification combined cycle units and stationary combined cycle turbine units that generate electricity for sale and are larger than 25 megawatts.  Thus, EGUs burning other fuels, such as biomass would not be regulated under this rule.

EPA is considering an output-based standard of 1,000 lbs of CO2 per megawatt-hour.  The agency notes that approximately 95% of new natural gas combined cycle power plants already meet this standard without additional emissions controls.  Power plants utilizing coal would require some sort of carbon capture and storage, although this would not impose an additional burden upon utilities in states that already include carbon capture and storage (including Montana and Illinois).

In order for facilities to implement and optimize their control technology, EPA is proposing to allow facilities to use their 30-year average CO2 emissions to determine compliance.  Utilizing a 30-year average instead of an annual standard would allow new facilities time to tweak the performance of their equipment since initial emissions exceedences could be offset by subsequent compliance.

If you have any questions regarding the Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants or other environmental regulation of utilities, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Uranium: A new issue for Coal Ash Ponds and Coal Combustion Residue?

3 Apr

Coal Combustion Residues (CCR) have received a lot of bad press over the past few years, despite many beneficial uses, and it may be getting worse.  CCR covers the variety of by-products from coal burning electric utilities, including flue gas desulfurization, coal slag, bottom ash and fly ash.  CCR is often beneficially reused.  For example, CCR can be added to concrete, simultaneously creating a more durable product and reducing the amount of Portland cement required.  This is environmentally beneficial because 1) the product is more durable, 2) the CCR does not have to be disposed of in a landfill or impoundment, and 3) less Portland cement, the production of which has negative impacts on the environment, is needed.  Likewise, FGD gypsum, which is generated from the scrubbing process at coal-fired power plants, can be used in lieu of naturally occuring rock gypsm for drywall.  In fact, over half of the drywall in the US is made this way, again saving disposal space.  Unfortunately, not all CCR is beneficially reused and much of it is diposed as a solid or as a slurry in an impoundment.

The disposal practices for CCR, especially in slurry impoundments, have come under increasing scrutiny because of several accidents over the past few years. The most notorious event occured on December 22, 2008, when a CCR surface impoundment was breached at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee which released 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash.  The spill covered over 300 acres, impacted over two dozen residences, and TVA estimated the cleanup will cost in the range of one billion dollars.  EPA has worked to determine which surface impoundments pose the greatest threat and published a report in the summer of 2009.

A second issue, albeit one that garnered less press, with CCR disposal has revolved around the potential for ground water contamination.  CCRs can contain several heavy metals such as asenic, selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury.  While these metals are present in low concentrations, impoundments contain such a large volume of CCR that the mass balance of these metals arguably can be significant.  In addition, most of these impoundments are unlined and, thus, increase the likelihood that these metals will enter the groundwater.  In order to address this issue, EPA’s proposed rule for CCR include liner and monitoring requirements.  That rule will not be finalized until 2013 and most likely wouldn’t be fully implemented for several years after that.

A recent CNN.com article (Read the CNN.com article here) raises the specter that Uranium groundwater contamination may be another risk posed byCCR surface impoundments and is an excellent example of the potential negative press and legal exposure that a utility can receive because of a surface impoundment.  In this case the Georgia Power Plant Schere maintains a 900-acre impoundment and the residences in the area rely upon well water.  According to the article, the residents are experiencing a variety of ailments and cancers.  Testing has indicated that many of their wells contain high levels of uranium.  Furthermore, the article alleges that coal ash has been documented as having significant levels of uranium (a fact which I am attempting to, but as of this moment have not, verified).  A direct cause-and-effect has not been established between the surface impoundment and the residents’ illnesses, and the article notes that EPA believes a naturally occuring source of Uranium may be the source for the wells.  Nevertheless, the mere presence of the surface impoundment has raised the issue.

If you have any questions regarding coal combustion residues, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Illinois Senate passes B-Corp Bill

30 Mar

The Illinois Senate passed Senate Bill 2897 on March 28.  The bill proposes a new type of corporate entity (like a C Corp or an LLC) known as a Benefit Corporation, otherwise known as a B-Corp.  B Corps would be required to incorporate the principles of sustainability into their Articles of Incorporation or Operating Agreement.  Proponents of B-Corps contend that integrating these principles into the “DNA” of the company allow business owners to send a strong message to consumers who wish to purchase from business that embrace the same principles.  Proponents also believe that B-Corps will allow businesses to follow their sustainability principles, while minimizing the risk of shareholder lawsuits alleging that directors have failed to maximize corporate profits and breached their fiduciary duties.  Some sectors have contested this second point, noting that the business judgment rule has given directors a wide degree of latitude in deciding what actions are in the best interest of the company, and that incorporating sustainability into business decisions does not run afoul of the directors’ fiduciary duty.  B-Corps legislation has already been passed in several states, most recently California, where Patagonia quickly became the first high profile California company to become a B-Corp.

We will provide an update on the bill’s progress in the House.

If you have any questions regarding B-Corps and sustainable business, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Madison County, IL ends asbestos trial reservations.

30 Mar

Judge Clarence Harrison, recently assigned to oversee the asbestos docket in Madison County, has ended the asbestos reservation system.  The practice had allowed law firms to reserve a trial date prior to actually filing a law suit.  Critics of the system argued that such a system allowed plaintiff firms effectively to shop their trial date.  Madison County has been a long standing destination for asbestos litigation, often averaging close to a thousand cases filed per year.  Needless to say it will be interesting to see what impact the removal of the reservation system has on the number of cases filed in the future.

If you have any questions regarding asbestos litigation, asbestos removal, and asbestos enforcement by the government, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Asbestos defendants argue to end Madison County trial ‘reservation’ system

27 Mar

Madison County, in southern Illinois, has long been one of the major venues for asbestos litigation.  While there have been many reasons for Madison County to be selected, two of the more important reasons have been that the jury pool is heavily unionized and that a special docket system was devised that allowed plaintiff law firms to reserve a court date prior to filing a lawsuit.  Defendent law firms have repeated attacked this practice as discussed in the article below.

Asbestos defendants argue to end Madison County trial ‘reservation’ system.

If you have any questions regarding asbestos litigation, contact us at 773-609-5320, info@thornenvironmentallaw.com, or through our web contact form.

Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.

Stephen Thorn selected as Illinois Rising Star

14 Feb

Stephen Thorn has been named to the Illinois Rising Stars list as one of the top up-and-coming under-40 attorneys in Illinois for 2012. Each year no more than 2.5% of the layers in the state receive this honor. The selection for this respected list is made by the research team at Super Lawyers.
Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a rigorous multi-phased process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates, and peer reviews by practice area.

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