CENTRALIA — With the Illinois Senate passing a revised state energy regulation bill Monday, local environmentalists are adamant that the state’s involvement is long overdue.
The approved version of the legislation would require significant changes from local fossil fuel groups such as Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC), but with a deadline for correction spread out over the next decade.
The bill will require the plant to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2035 and give the campus the ultimatum of cutting carbon-emission entirely or go offline by 2045, according to Capitol News Illinois. Though enforcement by the state to abide by these requirements remains unclear.
Prairie State Energy Campus representatives say the facility has taken a “neutral” position on the new round of edits to the bill, though they were initially hopeful to meet, at minimum, the facility’s natural life expectancy of 2062.
“In the spirit of compromise, we have taken a neutral stance on this legislation,” said PSEC Vice President of External Affairs Alyssa Harre in a statement Monday. “Not because it is exactly what we want, but because we are dedicated to achieving the highest degree of certainty for the people this legislation most impacts—our member communities and our workforce.”
Vito Mastrangelo, of Texico, who purchases electricity from Tri-County Electric Cooperative, said he believes Illinois residents are not as concerned with climate change because they do not see the negative effects firsthand, as other regions of the country do.
Mastrangelo said he was able to foresee the issues associated with construction of the coal plant and the environmental impact early on. He even attended a public hearing before the campus was built, stating that investing more into the coal industry instead of moving away from it was not a good idea.
“Coal has served Illinois very well...but it burns dirty,” he said. “(Scientists) just haven’t had much success making it burn cleaner.”
He said even with carbon sequestration studies in the works to estimate how much new technology would cost to bury the harmful carbon emissions into the ground, he questioned whether or not the investment would be a smart move when alternative energy sources exist.
Greg Hubert, a Naperville environmentalist and Prairie State Energy consumer, has been researching the ecological impact and economic stability of the energy campus over the past several years.
As a resident of Naperville, one of the 32 municipalities included in the Illinois Municipal Electric Energy group, feels that rate payers have “no choice” in using Prairie State energy, even when costs of energy production for rate payers remain unclear.
Hubert said his biggest concern is the “lack of full transparency” in Prairie State’s finances. As a public energy supplier, he said the company should be more transparent in publicizing the financial health of the facility.
“We can’t verify it because their financials are not public,” Hubert said.
In a search for information, Hubert discovered that the nine not-for-profit owners that have shares in Prairie State Energy Campus signed confidentiality agreements upon the company’s birth.
This agreement would then force owners to withhold information on any information regarding the campus that is of a “technical, commercial or business nature.” Including the financial health of the campus.
“Public rate payers aren’t able to see the whole picture,” Hubert said. “Prairie State is likely to be ‘uneconomic’ by the end of the decade.”
In reference to a study released by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Hubert said the coal industry has lost its competitive edge in comparison to renewable energy sources.
RMI then suggested transition opportunities for the campus in the study. The organization calculated that, based on market trends, “wind, solar, and other clean energy solutions are expected to continue to decline in price” in the coming years.
The study also stated that since deadlines for coal-powered plants are so far away, there is appropriate time to alleviate some of the potential consequences of the plant’s closure. Such as job loss, increased energy costs or long-term debt burden.
“By proactively planning for plant closure with appropriate lead time, Illinois state policymakers and key PSEC stakeholders can help to lessen or eliminate any negative impacts on impacted communities and utilities,” according to the RMI report.
For Trenton Prairie State Energy consumer, Hank Henderson, the “cost” of energy production goes beyond finances. Instead, the price residents are paying also factors in on the environmental impact and health impact of the releasing “dirty energy,” or carbon dioxide, in the air.
Henderson said he developed asthma later in life as an adult, and questions the air quality that only seems to continue to worsen with time.
Though the dependency on renewable energy sources in Illinois is low, which now is only between 7% and 8%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it will only continue to grow with the state stepping in.
However, he said he is frustrated by the lack of action taken by the state so far, which could have led to greater progress by now if the transition would have been made sooner.
Henderson said he was glad to see the bill pass, as there has been a lot of “fear-mongering” around plant closures, especially with the job loss pertaining to the closure of Prairie State.
He said there is time to prepare, as there has been a natural transition away from the coal industry now that renewable energy sources are more readily available.
Henderson compared the transition to his time working as an engineer for Motorola specializing in the pager industry, as he sold millions of pagers, which at the time, were the primary source of communication. The pagers eventually phased out, and replaced by updated technology, such as cell phones.
“We know that was outdated and that industry was going away,” Henderson said.
With the visible influence of global warming on the rise, he said he thinks it is time to stop relying on energy corporations to do the right thing. With the lengthy timelines given to make adjustments, he said employees should be given enough time to change course and plan accordingly.
“Are you willing to keep driving off the cliff to support your income right now?” he said.
He said keeping the coal plants in limbo would only be prolonging the progress that could be made toward transitioning to a more universally clean energy source.
In a 2020 annual report by Prairie State Energy Campus, the facility detailed a grant-funded study by the University of Illinois to see how carbon sequestration would look on a commercial scale, that could potentially keep the facility running. The study is anticipated to be completed by the end of the year, according to the report.
“This study could provide broad value for closing the gap between today’s technologies and long-term carbon reduction goals,” PSEC released in a statement.
The facility identified its progress in the 2020 year, increasing CO2 offsets by 38% in comparison to 2019 data.
Harre said the coal-powered energy is still an affordable and reliable power source for its consumers.
“We appreciate the diligent work of legislators during these challenging negotiations. Our focus throughout this process has been to ensure affordability and reliability for the communities and rural electric cooperatives that own Prairie State, while also protecting the livelihoods of the hard-working women and men that keep the lights on,” Harre said in a statement Monday.
Hubert said financial transparency is limited not only with energy generation costs, but also with capital improvements that are made to the facility each year. These kinds of improvements could also be skyrocketed if new carbon sequestration technologies were to be implemented in the campus.
“The level of detail is not there to analyze the full cost,” Hubert said.
He said there is a “very strong trust relationship” with investors into Prairie State Energy Campus that have faith the facility is operating efficiently. However, he said if that is the case, the numbers need to be verified.
However, Harre said Prairie State continues to develop a way to use modern technology to eliminate carbon emissions and still remain functional.
“With $1 billion in state-of-the-art emissions controls, Prairie State has long been committed to serving as a bridge to a cleaner energy future and we will continue to play an important role in closing the gap between today’s technologies and our state’s long-term carbon reduction goals,” Harre said in a statement.
MOUNT VERNON — Organizers are hopeful this Saturday’s 10th annual Brian Piper Giving Heart Memorial Ride will draw a sizable crowd as it will be the final ride ever held.
Registration begins at 11 a.m. Saturday for the ride at Piper Farms at 10427 E. Ambassador Road in Mount Vernon. For this year’s event, motorcycles, cars, jeeps and side-by-side vehicles will be allowed to participate. In the past, side-by-sides were not permitted.
“We’ve not had side-by-sides before,” said Barb Piper, Brian Piper’s step-mother and one of the organizers of the event. “They’ve gotten so popular.”
The memorial ride is meant to honor the memory of Brian Piper, who died in a car accident in November of 2011. It also raises money for children’s charities and individual families who have kids with medical needs, including serious injuries, illnesses or birth defects, Sentinel archives state. Charities that benefit from the ride include the St. Louis Shriners Hospitals for Children, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Amy Schulz Child Advocacy Center in Mount Vernon.
Organizers estimate that the Brian Piper Memorial Foundation has donated to more than 60 families over the last 10 years. Also, the ride and donations collected through the foundation have raised well over $60,000 for families in Jefferson County and the surrounding counties of Marion, Perry, Franklin, Clinton, Wayne and Hamilton. The foundation has also given $7,500 every year to the St. Louis Shriners Hospitals for Children.
“When this all originated it was to promote awareness of organ donation and to help children under the age of 18 with medical issues,” said Virginia Page, Brian Piper’s mother and co-organizer of the ride. “We’ve been able to do a lot of good over the years.”
Participants pay a $25 per rider registration fee to take part in the ride. Additional T-shirts are $15 and pre-registration guarantees a shirt size, states an event news release. You can pre-register by sending a check to the Brian Piper Memorial Foundation at 10427 E. Ambassador Road, Mount Vernon, IL 62864.
This year’s ride will follow a different route than in years past. The ride will start and end at Piper Farms on East Ambassador Road. During the ride, participants will stop at the Mule Barn in Du Bois, Stringers and Moore LLC in Sesser, and at Bubba’s in Nason before returning to the farm.
There will be food and live entertainment after the ride at Piper Farms. All proceeds raised will go to children’s charities.
Over the years, the ride has drawn as many as 80 people. Barb Piper said she is hopeful this year’s ride will also be popular since it is the last one. The event could not be held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is going to be our last one,” Barb Piper said. “It’s 10 years. Things have their course, their time frame, and we feel like with everything that goes on, like COVID, that this would be a good time to end it. Hopefully, people will come out for one last ride.”
For more information on the ride, contact Barb Piper at (618) 534-3011, or Virginia Page at (618) 315-3370.
COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed back to levels not seen since last winter, erasing months of progress and potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s argument for his sweeping new vaccination requirements.
The cases — driven by the delta variant combined with resistance among some Americans to getting the vaccine — are concentrated mostly in the South.
While one-time hot spots like Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates are soaring in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, fueled by children now back in school, loose mask restrictions and low vaccination levels.
The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like January’s infection peak: Surgeries canceled in hospitals in Washington state and Utah. Severe staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. A lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units at or over capacity in Texas.
The deteriorating picture nine months into the nation’s vaccination drive has angered and frustrated medical professionals who see the heartbreak as preventable. The vast majority of the dead and the hospitalized have been unvaccinated, in what has proved to be a hard lesson for some families.
“The problem now is we have been trying to educate based on science, but I think most of the education that is happening now is based on tragedy, personal tragedy,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky.
In Kentucky, 70% of the state’s hospitals — 66 of 96 — are reporting critical staff shortages, the highest level yet during the pandemic, the governor said.
“Our hospitals are at the brink of collapse in many communities,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.
The U.S. is averaging over 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest levels respectively since early March and late January. And both figures have been on the rise over the past two weeks.
The country is still well below the terrifying peaks reached in January, when it was averaging about 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day.
The U.S. is dispensing about 900,000 vaccinations per day, down from a high of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss whether the U.S. should begin giving booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
On a positive note, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 appears to be leveling off or even declining at around 90,000, or about where things stood in February.
Last week, the president ordered all employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly tests, a measure affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.
“We read about and hear about and we see the stories of hospitalized people, people on their deathbeds among the unvaccinated over the past few weeks,” Biden said in announcing the rules. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The requirements have met with resistance and threats of lawsuits from Republicans.
Arizona on Tuesday reported 117 deaths, the most in a single day since last February. Tennessee now ranks first in the U.S. in new cases per capita. Hundreds of students there have been forced to quarantine. Some schools have closed because of staffing shortages. Others have asked to switch to remote learning.
But measures aimed at containing the virus have run into opposition. Last week, a Tennessee high school student who spoke at a school board meeting in favor of a mask mandate was heckled by adults while he talked about his grandmother dying from the virus.
Stanton, the ER doctor in Kentucky, said he has admitted families where the delta variant has swept through generations, especially if the older members are unvaccinated.
“Now in Kentucky, one-third of new cases are under age 18,” he said. Some children brought it home from summer camp and spread it to the rest of the family, and now, “between day care and schools and school activities, and friends getting together, there are just so many exposures.”
In Alabama, hundreds of COVID-19 patients fill intensive care units, and one hospital contacted 43 others in three states to find a specialty cardiac ICU bed for Ray Martin DeMonia. It wasn’t soon enough. The 73-year-old died Sept. 1.
“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies,” his family pleaded in his obituary.
In Hidalgo County, Texas, along the Mexican border, about 50 patients were in the hospital with COVID-19 on a given day in July. By early August, the number had soared to over 600.
“Back in July we were almost celebrating. Little did we know,” said Ivan Melendez, public health authority for Hidalgo County. The situation has improved, with just under 300 people in the hospital as of Monday, but ICUs are still above 90% capacity, Melendez said.
The biggest surge over the summer occurred in states that had low vaccination rates, particularly in the South, where many people rely on air conditioning and breathe recirculated air, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. She said states farther north could see upticks as the onset of cold weather sends people indoors.
Vaccination rates are not as low in some Northern states, but “there’s still a lot of unvaccinated people out there. Delta is going to find them,” Marr said.
Three more virus related deaths have been reported in area counties over the past several days, with the health departments in both Clinton and Washington counties announcing new deaths in recent days.
The report from Clinton County covers a seven day period, from September 4 through September 10, with two new deaths reported to the Clinton County Health Department during that time.
The new Clinton County deaths include a man in his 60s and a man in his 70s, according to health officials. The county has now seen a total of 96 virus-related deaths during the pandemic.
Health officials in Clinton County also reported 94 new positive cases of the COVID-19 virus from September 4 through September 10.
As of Friday, Clinton County had 374 active cases of the virus that were in home isolations, along with three cases that were hospitalized. The hospitalized cases included a child under three months old and two men in their 60s, according to the health department.
The Washington County Health Department announced one new virus-related death late last week. The new death was reported for a woman in her 50s and is the county’s 32nd death of the pandemic.
Health officials also reported 40 new positive cases of the virus in Washington County over a six-day period from last Wednesday through Monday. The new cases ranged in age from under a year old to in their 80s.
Other counties in the region also reported additional cases of the virus over the past several days, with health officials in Marion County announcing 119 new positives between last Thursday through Tuesday.
Of the 119 new cases in Marion County, 42 were reported for school age individuals, according to the health department.
Just seven of the 119 recent positives in Marion County were for fully vaccinated individuals.
As of Tuesday, the Marion County Health Department listed 597 confirmed cases of the virus that are currently active in the county, including 24 cases that are hospitalized. Three of the hospitalized cases are currently on ventilators.
The Jefferson County Health Department reported another 129 positive cases of COVID-19 between Friday and Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, Jefferson County had 120 confirmed cases of the virus that remained active and in isolation, according to health officials.
A recent report from the Fayette County Health Department announced 118 new positive cases of the virus between September 6 and September 12.
CENTRALIA — BCMW is now taking applications for the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP.) LIHWAP will assist low-income households in restoring water services and is one of several programs opening applications in September.
BCMW Executive Director Sue Castleman said that LIHWAP will also prevent disconnection or reduce arrearages. LIHWAP is a two year program funded federally and distributed through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Castleman said income restricted households with water bills that exceed $250 and have received a disconnect notice or that have had a disconnection are all eligible for the program. Funds for LIHWAP will be dispersed over Bond, Clinton, Marion and Washington counties over two years or until they are exhausted.
“We have $275,808 total client assistance dollars for the four counties we serve. The program will last two years or until the money runs out...we have no idea if it will become a permanent program,” Castleman said.
BCMW also announced that they will continue accepting applicants for the 2022 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) through May 31, 2022.
LIHEAP and PIP Administrator Stephanie Mellenthin said there is almost $300,000 in funding for the programs left over from last year. Once the program uses the money, they can receive funding for 2022.
“Last year we had over $1.8 million and the $300,000 is left over from that,” Mellenthin said.
Both the state and federal government fund LIHEAP, Mellenthin said. The program is designed so that low income households can receive financial assistance for their natural gas, propane and electric bills. PIPP is separate from LIHEAP and provides a monthly benefit for applicants who make their monthly payment, are Ameren customers and who meet LIHEAP requirements.
Mellenthin said 30 day income guidelines are based on state median income and the number of persons living within the applying household.
Like LIHEAP, PIPP applicants are enrolled on a first-come, first-serve basis. POPP will run through March 31, 2022 or until BCMW has reached a maximum capacity of households for the program.
LIHEAP eligible households can also apply for the Furnace Assistance Program which runs through March 31, 2022.
Mellenthin said that farmer’s market coupons for qualifying senior citizens are also still available. The coupons can be applied for through BCMW, the Department on Aging and Midland Area Agency on Aging. Coupons are valid for participating farmer’s markets throughout the state, a list of markets is available when coupons are picked up through the providing agency.
Mellenthin said each senior citizen can receive five $5 coupons. Coupons work similar to checks and farmers are able to deposit coupons into their bank accounts. Residents of Marion County have priority but residents from other counties are still eligible to receive coupons.
“I still have plenty of them. Marion County residents get priority but I’ll take those outside Marion County too,” Mellenthin said.
Senior citizens must be 60 or older and meet income guidelines in order to apply for coupons.
Those interested in farmer’s market coupons can call the Marion County BCMW at 618-532-7388 Ext 130 or Ext 132.
For LIHEAP and PIPP eligibility requirements visit www.bcmwcommunityservices.org. Applications are preferred to be taken over the phone but those without access to a phone can go to BCMW in Centralia located at 909 East Rexford Ave.
Mellenthin said anyone applying in person will need to arrive with the proper documentation that is required for applications.
Applicants will need to provide proof of gross income from all household members for the prior 30 day period beginning with the date of their application, proof of social security numbers or individual taxpayer identification numbers for all household members, heat and electric bills from the previous 30 days and a copy of rental agreement if renting.
Those who wish to apply for the LIHWAP waitlist may call the Marion County BCMW at 616-532-7388 Ext. 113.
MOUNT VERNON — Jury selection was completed Tuesday morning in the case of Traviel Gibson, a 31-year-old Mount Vernon man accused of fatally shooting his father on May 13, 2020.
Jefferson County State’s Attorney Sean Featherstun said jury selection in the case commenced on Monday morning and was completed by around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The opening statements are now scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
A total of 15 jurors were selected, including the 12-person jury and three alternates. Nine of the jurors are men and six are women.
Numerous witnesses are expected to be called during the trial and officials expect the trial to continue on into next week.
Gibson faces three counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery in connection with the case. First-degree murder charges carry a sentence range of 20 to 60 years in prison upon conviction but Gibson is also eligible for a 25-to-life firearm enhancement, Sentinel archives state.
Gibson is accused of shooting his father, 48-year-old Sam J. Gibson of Mount Vernon, in the 1800 block of Cherry Street.
If interested, the general public is being asked to view the trial online and not in person, said Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Randy Pollard.
“Due to capacity restrictions with COVID-19 precautions, the public is instructed to view the jury trial via YouTube,” Pollard said. “The YouTube channel is called ‘Jefferson County Illinois Court.’”
The trial can also be viewed live at http://jeffersoncountyillinois.com/circuit-clerks-recommended-links.
According to Sentinel archives, the fatal shooting in this case was reported after a distraught woman entered the Mount Vernon Police Department lobby at around 12:19 p.m. on May 13, 2020. She reported that a man had possibly been shot at a residence in the 1800 block of Cherry Street, and also said a man at the residence had attacked her and stolen her phone.
Officers responded to the scene and allegedly saw a man, later identified as Traviel Gibson, run into the Cherry Street residence. Police also reportedly saw a deceased man on the front porch of the home. Officers said they made several commands but Traviel Gibson allegedly refused to cooperate and exit the home.
Police later entered the residence to make contact with Gibson but he allegedly continued to resist, which resulted in one officer suffering minor injuries. Even so, Gibson was eventually placed in custody.
Traviel Gibson is currently being held at the Jefferson County Justice Center on a $3 million bond. Public Defender Matt Vaughn, Gibson’s attorney, was unavailable for comment for this story.
SPRINGFIELD — Expressing concern that the Illinois State Board of Education might have overstepped its bounds by threatening to withhold funding from school districts that do not enforce its mask mandate, a legislative panel on Tuesday urged the agency to put its policies into formal rules.
The unanimous vote by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, represented one of the few times that Illinois lawmakers have pushed back against the enforcement of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it came after intense questioning of ISBE officials, especially from Republican members of the panel.
Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said he personally has no problem with wearing masks or getting vaccinated and that he encourages others to get vaccinated as well.
“Having said that, I do have concerns with government overreach and those who act outside their authority,” he said. “That is the purpose of our questions today. As one member of JCAR, it is incumbent upon all of us to ask questions to ensure government is acting within its authority and in line with state statute.”
On Aug. 4, Pritzker issued an executive order requiring all public and nonpublic PreK-12 schools to follow joint guidance from ISBE and the Illinois Department of Public Health by requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors at school.
Since then, the state board has taken an aggressive stance in enforcing that rule by either placing districts on probation or, in the case of nonpublic schools, revoking their official state recognition.
According to data from the state board, 47 public school districts have been placed on suspension for refusing to comply, although all but four of them have since agreed to come into compliance. Beecher City CUSD 20, Hutsonville CUSD 1, Cowden-Herrick CUSD 3A and Nauvoo-Colusa CSD 325 remained on probation as of Tuesday, meaning they are at risk of losing state recognition and state funding.
A total of 15 nonpublic school systems have had their state recognition revoked for noncompliance, although six of those have since had their recognition restored. Losing recognition can mean, among other things, that their graduation diplomas are not recognized by state colleges and universities and they are ineligible to take part in interscholastic events.
DeWitte and other Republicans on the panel questioned whether the state board had any statutory or administrative authority to take enforcement action against schools that refuse to comply with “guidance” issued by state agencies.
“Guidance is guidance. Guidance is not a rule,” said Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego. “A rule is enforceable. A statute is enforceable. I don’t believe that an executive order is enforceable to the same degree as statute or (a rule).”
But Kristen Kennedy, deputy legal counsel for ISBE, said the agency was relying on an existing administrative rule that says, “A school district shall be placed on probation if it exhibits deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff” as well as Pritzker’s executive order and the joint guidance issued by IDPH and ISBE.
She also cited a 2020 Sangamon County court ruling involving the Hutsonville school district — one of the four public districts still on probation — that held Pritzker’s executive orders and the joint guidance were all legally issued and enforceable.
Wheeler, however, compared ISBE’s actions with the situation lawmakers faced in the early phases of the pandemic, when JCAR pushed back against emergency rules issued by the Department of Public Health that would have allowed for criminal prosecutions of businesses that violated Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order.
“And we went through lots of iterations and hours and hours of discussions trying to land on something that was better than what we started with, and I think we actually did that last year,” he said. “But it was all done by emergency rulemaking. When it comes to how you direct things toward the public, guidance says ‘should’ and rule and law say ‘shall.’ And rarely can you cross over those two, because otherwise there’s no point in us having a legislature to oversee these things, to set the policy.”
Soon after that, the panel went into recess behind closed doors. Several minutes later, members emerged and voted on a motion expressing “concern that policies outside of rule may exist” and encouraging ISBE “to place all policy and guidance in rule.” The motion specifically urged ISBE to propose rules that more clearly defined process to be used before revoking a school’s recognition.
The motion passed, 10-0. JCAR’s next scheduled meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Springfield, which is the first day of the General Assembly’s fall veto session.