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Great Lakes Article:

Waste dischargers will start paying fees
By J. Philip Bloomer
The News-Gazette, Champaign, Illinois
06/04/03


Included in the new package of fees enacted by the state Legislature last week was a long-awaited reform backed by environmental advocates to charge fees to industries and waste generators that discharge into Illinois' lakes and streams.

Separately, a $35 million Clean Water Trust Fund administered by the lieutenant governor's office will be a new source of funds for long-awaited initiatives to help clean up the Illinois River basin.
"Combined, this is good news for anyone who drinks water or who otherwise enjoys the state's rivers and streams," said Claude Walker, senior policy analyst for Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. "It makes polluters pay and it also is a landmark initiative that allows us to start cleaning up the state's waterways."

New permitting fees are expected to generate $40 million that will pay for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's permitting program, said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, sponsor of the legislation.
While that may be good news for environmentalist lobbies, it's not for agencies such as the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District.
Executive Director Dennis Schmidt said they just calculated that the district now faces $86,000 in fees they must find and pay in July, an expense that was not contemplated when budgets were being prepared.

The fees are based on water discharged from the district's two treatment plants, as well as sludge treatment operations.
"We don't mind paying our fair share, but this whole process raises some questions," Schmidt said.

The original intent of Garrett's legislation was to generate money to pay for cleaning up the state's waterways.

"I first became aware of this as a result of the high E.coli levels in Lake Michigan. In looking into the issue, I realized that industries were discharging waste, probably legally ... but were not required to pay anything for their permits," Garrett said.

According to Prairie Rivers Network and other environmental groups, Illinois was one of only eight states in the nation that did not charge fees for issuing the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits.

"As a result, Illinois taxpayer dollars were subsidizing the degradation of the rivers and lakes valued for drinking water, wildlife and recreational opportunities, while taxpayers were similarly being charged license fees to fish or paddle in those same rivers," said Jean Flemma, executive director of the Champaign-based Prairie Rivers Network.
The Illinois EPA is authorized to administer the permitting system by the U.S. EPA. The permitting and oversight bureaucracy for that costs Illinois taxpayers $27 million a year, which has been paid from general revenues.

An analysis by the IEPA shows that 2,065 dischargers are permitted to operate in Illinois, not including other categories of storm water dischargers and livestock operations.

Even with the general revenue support, the agency said 26 percent of the individual permittees are operating on expired permits and more than 1,000 permit renewal and modification applications are pending review in-house, with more federal requirements on their way that will further burden the agency.

Under the agreement worked out in the Legislature, Garrett said the new fees will raise approximately $40 million, with some $26 million of that going to the IEPA to administer the permitting system, and the rest going to the general fund.

"There's some discussion still about that, whether revenue generated by fees can go into the general revenue fund, but that's my understanding of where we're at," Garrett said. "It's not everything we wanted, but it's a good start."

The Illinois Action Project of the Sierra Club said there are 414 polluted watersheds across the state on a cleanup waiting list due to a lack of funds.

Flemma, of the Prairie Rivers Network, added, "This is a victory for Illinois' rivers and streams, and for its citizens. During the current fiscal climate in the state, it made no sense for us to continue giving polluters a free ride at taxpayers' expense. If you want to dump pollution into Illinois' waters, there should be a cost."

Walker, of the lieutenant governor's office, said procedures for the disbursement of the monies in the Clean Water Trust Fund have yet to be established. Quinn was given authority over the fund as chairman of the Illinois River Coordinating Council, which is charged with coordinating public and private funding for restoration activities in the Illinois River Watershed. The council meets Monday in Starved Rock State Park.

"We're still trying to piece all this together, but we're delighted it happened," he said.

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