Protecting The Environment
Long before the “Green” movement became popular, Jim Edgar laid the groundwork for today’s environmental sustainability measures being championed by the public and private sector. An avid hiker, bicyclist and horseback rider, Jim Edgar relished his role a chief steward for Illinois’ vast natural resources. Under his leadership, Illinois became a national trendsetter in solving environmental problems at less cost. With state support, curbside recycling grew dramatically in Illinois decreasing the amount of waste going into Illinois landfills. Edgar launched the Cash for Clunkers program which paid owners of old, high polluting cars to get them off the road. And he launched the Conservation Congress to protect Illinois’ natural resources and develop outdoor recreation activities. As a result more natural area land was protected than in any other administration in Illinois. Jim Edgar was also a national advocate for ethanol to make it marketable and mainstream. As chair of a 19 state coalition Edgar rallied support for ethanol that led President Bush to approve ethanol blended gasoline for cities required to burn cleaner auto fuels under the Clean Air Act. Later Edgar convinced the Clinton Administration to pass a 1998 tax break on ethanol, shaving 5.4 cents off each gallon to make it competitive with unblended gasoline in the marketplace.
Edgar saw to it that more natural land was protected than during any other administration in Illinois history. Frequent companions of the Governor as he enjoyed the state’s varied natural resources were his dogs Daisy and Emy.
Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the land that now comprises Illinois was part of a lush landscape of prairie grasses stretching from Indiana to the Rocky Mountains. John Deere’s invention of the steel plow in the early 1800s opened up these prairies and transformed them into farmlands.
In the final decade of the 1900s, Edgar meant to reclaim some of that prairie. Large parcels of virgin prairie land became available and the Governor was there to preserve them for conservation and recreation areas.
In a move described as the equivalent of creating a Yellowstone or Yosemite for the Chicago area, Edgar and the state’s congressional delegation in 1996 succeeded in converting 19,000 acres of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, which closed in the 1970s after 50 years of operation, into the nation’s first federally protected tallgrass prairie and recreation area. The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, just 40 miles south of Chicago, was the largest remaining undeveloped tract in the state. Today it is a paradise for wildlife and many of the state’s native grasses and flowers. Attached to the site is a new 1,000-acre cemetery for the nation’s veterans plus 3,000 acres for economic use.
Edgar and Kustra discuss a restoration plan for the Illinois River watershed which includes more than half the state’s agricultural land.
The Illinois River watershed is home to more than 90 percent of the state’s residents and nearly half of the state’s agricultural land. The river handles about half the commercial traffic on the Mississippi River above St. Louis. And its many miles provide innumerable wildlife and recreational opportunities.
But over the years, commercial and industrial development and farming in the watershed have led to soil erosion an estimated 14 million tons a year more than half of which is deposited in the Illinois River. The result has been the loss of 20,000 acres of backwater lakes to sedimentation. The river channel, which is less than two feet deep along some stretches, had nearly become unnavigable.
Edgar asked Lt Gov Bob Kustra to lead the rescue mission in 1993. Kustra organized volunteers to monitor the health of the Illinois River. Then in 1996 came a team to plot strategy and to recommend how to improve the watershed.
Seeking creative solutions to environmental problems, Edgar in 1995 piloted Clean Break. The amnesty program, which began in Rockford, allowed small businesses to comply with environmental laws without fear of fines or penalties. At left is IEPA Director Mary Gade.
The Edgar administration walked a fine line between environmental interests and economic development. The Governor understood that the way to improve Illinois as a place to do business and to raise a family meant preserving the state’s environment and fostering a better quality of life.
His agenda sought creative solutions to the environmental problems confronting businesses while controlling pollution. Clean Break, the first such program in the nation, resulted in 1994 from the Governor’s Task Force on Small Business. The Governor offered an estimated 600,000 small businesses a way to meet environmental obligations without fear of fines or other penalties.
Begun in 1995 as a pilot program in the Rockford area, Clean Break was so successful it went statewide in 1997. Pledging “cooperation rather than confrontation,” Edgar’s plan called for Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) experts to help small businesses to identify environmental requirements, to reduce potential sources of pollution and to observe environmental laws without penalties. Clean Break helped 800 businesses save nearly $3 million in potential fines, while ensuring the environment’s quality for generations to come.
A strong supporter of NAFTA, Edgar saw to it that agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico increased by $200 million a year. Here he meets with Mexican President Ernesto Zedilio in Mexico City to discuss increased trade opportunities.
About 80 percent of Illinois’ land, or 28 million acres, is used for farming. The state ranks second in the country for corn and soybean production and fourth in hog production. It is one of the top five states in cash crop receipts and total value of farm real estate. Agricultural exports total $4 billion annually.
To say farming is big business in Illinois is an understatement.
With competition growing and federal subsidies for farmers dwindling, the worldwide sale of Illinois food and agricultural products became critical. Edgar sought new markets. He was the most outspoken governor in Washington for passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since its approval in 1993, NAFTA has eliminated many trade barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico and helped generate $200 million a year in state agricultural exports.
The Governor and key farm leaders visited China, Mexico, Hungary, Japan, Russia, South Korea and western Europe to maintain Illinois’ position as the third leading agricultural exporter in the United States. The Illinois Department of Agriculture opened trade offices in Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong and Mexico. These efforts helped boost agricultural exports by 25 percent during Edgar’s two terms.
Such reliance on agricultural land makes erosion and water quality top priorities in Illinois and not just for farmers.
Under the Illinois Erosion and Sediment Control Program, more than 78 percent of Illinois’ cropland reached tolerable conservation levels by 1997, compared to 59 percent in 1982. Much of that progress resulted from farmers embracing no-tillage soil conservation practices. More Illinois farmers use this technique on a higher percentage of acres than in any other state in the nation.
Conservation tillage alone is not enough, however, to achieve Illinois’ soil saving goal. Some areas require more intensive work, such as construction of terraces, grass waterways, dams or other structures to keep soil in the fields and out of waterways.
Through Conservation 2000, soil and water conservation programs help defray the cost to landowners for installing soil-saving structures, reinforcing streambanks and safeguarding the state’s agricultural potential for generations to come. Funding for agricultural resource conservation more than doubled during the Governor’s two terms in office.
With the emergence of large livestock farms, Edgar took measures to protect their surroundings. As a good first step, Edgar enacted a law requiring notice to surrounding property owners and the state Department of Agriculture before a livestock facility handling 50 or more animals could be constructed or expanded. It mandated graduated setbacks around populated areas, set design standards and required training and testing of livestock managers.
Recycled tonnage grew from 91 tons a year when Edgar took office to 3.5 million tons. More than half the state’s population participate in curbside recycling.
Illinois landfills handled less trash each year of the Edgar administration. But stricter environmental laws and sites being filled to capacity cut the number of landfills in
the state from 146 to 58.
To reduce reliance on landfills, Edgar stressed recycling. Illinois responded with a 40-fold increase in recycled tonnage, growing from just 91 tons in 1990 to nearly 3.5 million tons in 1996. Curbside recycling programs served more and more Illinoisans, jumping from about 100 programs serving 600,000 residents in 1990 to 450 programs serving 6 million in 1996.
Edgar provided more than $19 million to encourage marketing for recycled materials. Some 335 projects totaling $10 million promoted the re-use of scrapped tires. Today, shredded tires are used as playground cover and to resurface high school and college running tracks. Twenty-four million passenger tires were saved from clogging landfills or littering the landscape.
In state government, Edgar improved recycling efforts by state agencies and, by 1998, 5.5 million pounds of waste paper was diverted from landfills, up 38 percent from 1990. Recycling also captured the imagination of students at West Chicago Community High School who proposed that public elementary and secondary schools buy paper and paper products from recycled supplies. Edgar agreed and signed a law to that effect. He also provided $1.5 million in state grants for recycling at Illinois state-supported universities and community colleges and $4 million to assist solid waste research at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses.
At Ford’s Chicago plant in 1994, Edgar takes the wheel of a flexible-fuel Taurus. Illinois government maintains the largest vehicle fleet in the nation running on gasoline containing 85 percent ethanol.
Illinois is the nation’s leading ethanol-producing state. As a result, Gov. Edgar assumed a national role in promoting it as a viable fuel alternative.
“I would rather rely on Illinois farmer for my fuel than on a Middle East oil baron,” Edgar said in 1991 when the state extended a sales tax break on ethanol purchases to 1999. Seven years later, the Governor helped pass legislation to push that tax break to 2003. He noted that gasoline containing at least 10 percent ethanol helped Chicago to achieve required carbon monoxide levels and reduce smog.
When he was chairman of the 19-state Governors’ Ethanol Coalition, Edgar rallied support for ethanol. These efforts paid off when President George Bush approved ethanol-blended gasoline for half the cities required to burn cleaner auto fuels under the Clean Air Act. Later, Edgar lobbied the Clinton administration to continue ethanol support and helped to achieve a 1998 tax break on ethanol fuel, shaving 5.4 cents off each gallon, to make it competitive with unblended gasoline.
Under Edgar’s direction, the state maintained a vehicle fleet that included more than 600 cars running on a special blend of gasoline that contains 85 percent ethanol. This is the largest fleet of its kind in the nation.
Ethanol-blended fuels are a boon to Illinois business in general and to the corn industry in particular. The state produces about 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol annually, representing 600 million bushels of Illinois corn, or 17 percent of the state’s total corn production.
The Edgar administration spared no effort to protect and improve the marketability of Illinois coal, an abundant natural resource with an estimated 181 billion tons still in the ground. This attention was necessary because the Illinois coal industry mainstay of the downstate economy since the 1880s encountered one of its most difficult periods in the 1990s.
Even though Illinois has the largest bituminous coal resources of any state, the coal’s high sulfur dioxide content led many utilities to seek other coal sources because of strict new federal Clean Air Act requirements. Coal production in Illinois dropped by about a third during Edgar’s years in office to 47 million tons, the number of operating mines decreased from 35 to 20 and the number of miners dropped by half to 5,000.
However, the situation would have been worse if not for Edgar’s strategy to bolster the coal industry by assuring users of Illinois coal that it could be a competitive fuel source, developing new markets and funding the largest state-sponsored coal research program in the United States. Under Edgar’s leadership, the state’s clean coal technology and research program benefited from increased funding, and bond authority was hiked significantly.
Illinois has 13 nuclear power reactors at seven atomic power plants, giving it the largest concentration of nuclear power plants in the country. Protecting Illinois citizens from potential radiation became a primary concern of the Edgar administration.
In 1994, the Governor signed a law placing an Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety resident inspector in each of the state’s nuclear power plants. These state inspectors live near their assigned station and work each day at the plant. The safety checks they perform provide the state with a direct hand in protecting the public. In the event of an accident, the inspector would serve as a vital communications link. Communities near nuclear power plants receive assistance from the state for emergency planning and state grants underwrite necessary response equipment.
With the state required to find a location for disposal of its low-level radioactive waste, Edgar stepped into a siting process well underway when he took office in 1991. An independent commission ruled a proposed site near Martinsville did not meet the necessary requirements, so Edgar called for development of a new one. A new siting strategy was approved by the General Assembly in 1993 and revised in 1997 when communities requested a voice in determining whether a site would be located in their area. The Governor supported revisions requiring any site considered for the facility to have been volunteered by the landowner and the local government. No site has yet been selected, but a disposal facility is scheduled to be available in 2012.
State inspectors also regularly inspect X-ray machines at clinics, hospitals and dentist offices, screen for radon, which impacts nearly one-third of all Illinois homes, handle radioactive spills and work to protect women from excessive radiation during mammography procedures.
In 1991, Edgar directed Illinois State Fair staff, as he did throughout state government, to cut waste and inefficiency, and to do more with less. These moves gradually erased the customary deficit, which had stood at $1.7 million in 1990. Better, the fair yielded surpluses in 1997 and 1998 of $200,000. Attendance at the 10-day event averaged 725,000 during Edgar’s two terms with a peak of 826,600 in 1998.
In 1993, the state fair became more self-supporting, changing from a reliance on the state’s general fund to the use of its own generated revenues. Edgar also directed the fair to enlist corporate support. Events like the state fair’s car races were privatized, cutting waste and inefficiency and placing financial risks on the promoter rather than the fair. The fair started an aggressive corporate marketing strategy that nets hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly through such sponsors as AT&T, Ameritech, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
Edgar insisted the fair provide good, clean, quality entertainment and education, with more free and family-orientated attractions, and promote Illinois agriculture.
Edgar’s inherited budgetary crisis in the early 1990s had an adverse impact on state historic sites. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency cut staff by 25 percent and various sites reduced operations or closed entirely.
Responding to this fiscal adversity, volunteers reopened some sites on a limited basis, while private contributions helped to pay staff at others.
Historic initiatives made headlines around the country, and occasionally the world, during Edgar’s tenure. Abraham Lincoln’s legal documents were cataloged by the tens of thousands, shedding light on a previously underresearched aspect of the 16th president’s life. The more than 100,000 documents from 5,000 legal cases involving Lincoln will be made available to the public on CD-ROM.
At Edgar’s urging, the General Assembly allocated $10.4 million to plan for the construction of a multi-million dollar Lincoln presidential library in Springfield. Lincoln’s Tomb, his home and the village where Lincoln operated a store are in the Springfield area and attract tourists and historians from around the world.
“Abraham Lincoln is the most studied and respected individual in United States history,” Edgar said as he commemorated the 189th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12, 1998. “There are presidential libraries honoring 11 American presidents, and it is time to build a library to honor our nation’s greatest president.”
State officials predict the library and museum, which will represent a cooperative effort by city, state and federal government, as well as the private sector, will attract close to a million visitors in its first year, more than double the attendance at other presidential libraries.
Edgar announced plans in 1998 for a $1.7 million interpretive center at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in southwestern Illinois. It will be the centerpiece of the state’s celebration in 2003 of the 200th anniversary of that famed expedition, which set out from the Illinois site. In his final budget, the Governor also set aside $800,000 for planning a new Illinois State Museum.
Upon taking office, Edgar was confronted by Native Americans concerned over the display of 900-year-old human remains at the Dickson Mounds Museum, 40 miles southwest of Peoria. Edgar closed the burial excavation exhibit in 1991 and promised a $4 million renovation, the museum’s first facelift since it was constructed in 1972. In 1994, the Governor returned to open a premier, modern exhibit tracing the once-thriving Native American culture along the Illinois River.