Lawmakers give tire burning the environmental green light

Posted: 5/4/2010

From Chicago Tribune

Backers of a south suburban incinerator muscled legislation through the Illinois House on Monday that would add tire burning to the state's definition of green, renewable energy.

Approved on a bipartisan 61-45 vote, the measure would clear the way for the Geneva Energy tire burner in Ford Heights to reap lucrative state grants, low-interest loans and other incentives originally intended for companies developing pollution-free wind and solar power.

If endorsed by state senators and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, the bill would make the incinerator a player in the growing market for renewable energy in Illinois, where power companies must get at least 10 percent of their electricity from green sources by 2015 and 25 percent by 2025.

Supporters contend the bill would make it easier to safely dispose of millions of scrap tires produced in Illinois each year. The incinerator's top executive also acknowledged the measure's fate could determine whether the tire burner can afford to keep operating.

"This is an opportunity to help an Illinois company," said sponsoring Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood. "They already have the ability to dispose of those tires. They're simply trying to figure out how they can be more profitable."

Quinn's administration declined to take a position on the measure as it moved through the House during the last week, even though the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has cited the incinerator with air pollution violations four times since 2006.

Lawmakers resurrected the bill as the U.S. EPA investigates whether Illinois violated environmental justice laws by allowing the incinerator to operate in a small village where more than 95 percent of the population is black and half live in poverty.

"This will be taking money away from wind and solar and renewables and geothermal in our state," said Rep. Karen May, a Highland Park Democrat who opposed the measure.

Ben Rose, the incinerator's president and chief executive, said his company has been working to eliminate pollution problems. "This bill is the difference between us making it or not," he said.

The incinerator currently employs about 17 people, four of whom live in Ford Heights, Rose said.

In other legislative action Monday, a House committee approved several gun-control bills backed by Mayor Richard Daley, including a proposal that would make it illegal to own semi-automatic assault rifles in Illinois.

Under the plan, which may be voted on by the full House later this week, manufacturers in Illinois could keep making the guns, but they could be sold only to buyers outside Illinois or to military and law enforcement. Those already owning assault rifles would have 90 days from the time the idea becomes law to turn them over to police.

Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, has pushed unsuccessfully for the ban for years and said its necessity is underscored by recent violence in the city.

"These things are made for mass destruction and don't need to be on the streets," he said.

Opponents said a ban will not prevent criminals from using the high-powered weapons and could hurt gun manufacturers who would lose Illinois customers.

The committee also sent to the floor measures that would require the Illinois State Police to develop an Internet-based system for gun sellers to conduct instant criminal background checks as well as a proposal that would make it a felony to sell a gun to a known gang member.

Original here.

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