dischargers will start paying fees
By J. Philip Bloomer
The News-Gazette, Champaign, Illinois
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
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
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
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
"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.