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Greener State/School Buildings on Illinois’ Horizon

Submitted on Fri, 02/23/2007 – 23:48.

It’s not every day that legislators readily agree on new environmental legislation. But it happened with the Green Governments Illinois Act, a program that could save taxpayers money as public facilities embrace more sustainable practices.

Senate Bill 46 was introduced by State Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) on Jan. 31 and received strong support from both sides of the aisle. SB 46 encourages local governments and universities to decrease greenhouse gasses and preserve resources – and helps them figure out how to do so.

“It’s a voluntary program, but it challenges all levels of government to come up with their own unique environmental plan,” said Garrett.

The legislation would officially create the Green Governments Coordinating Council, which has informally existed under the direction of Lt. Governor Pat Quinn. The council, which is made up of agency and environmental leaders, was formed in 2006 to help coordinate efforts throughout the state.

“Senator Garrett saw the need for more coordination within agencies and states to do more green and sustainable activities,” said Katie McClain, environmental liaison for Quinn’s office. “She heard about the Green Governments Coordinating Council, and she contacted our office.”

The bill’s goal is to make it easier for agencies, schools and municipalities to share environmental purchases, policies and practices with one another. The legislation will utilize an existing website, created and maintained by the lieutenant governor’s office,

“The cost is already in place with the lieutenant governor’s office,” said Garrett. “They already have the staff and will manage this program and the website. The council is formed, we’re just igniting them.”

Success stories and best practices will be shared through the website and through council meetings and activities, such as an annual award ceremony. By highlighting agencies and individuals that are implementing successful programs, the aim is to encourage a little “healthy competition.” At the same time, results will be tracked, evaluated and shared to foster ongoing improvements.

“Many communities and agencies are already doing these (sustainable) practices,” Garrett said. “But they are not writing it down or sharing it, and this legislation can help them do that.”

To achieve the overall goal of “reducing the environmental footprint of state government,” the bill suggests establishing “sustainability goals” in the following areas: energy efficiency, use of renewable fuels, water conservation, green purchasing, paper consumption, and solid waste generation. The goals and results would be tracked in annual reports and used as the basis of the award system.

“The easiest thing for governments to do is commit to purchasing energy efficient light bulbs,” said Garrett. “This can be done individually or collectively and is a basic starting point. We want the government to start thinking and acting environmentally.”

A light bulb giveaway is scheduled for spring to increase awareness that compact fluorescent light bulbs are a good first step toward sustainability. Other quick and low-cost activities on the top of the council’s list include storm-water management, which helps reduce flooding, and purchasing non-toxic cleaning products, said McClain at Quinn’s office.

The legislation has little opposition, primarily due to its voluntary nature, but it is by no means the final or only environmental legislation expected – or needed this year. Thus, some advocates feel this bill could be a distraction from what they consider more important or urgent environmental issues, such as carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global warming.

“It’s a great idea to get local governments to address these issues and lead by example,” said Rebecca Stanfield, state director of Environment Illinois, a citizen-based advocacy organization. “But it is not a huge amount of pollution. Much more comes more from power plants and cars.”

Ongoing efforts to conserve energy and resources should be encouraged and taught to agencies, businesses and individuals, advocates said. However, it should be part of a comprehensive plan, which they think would make more sense, save more money and make a larger impact, locally and globally.

“The Green Governments bill is a good step, but it’s a modest step,” said Stanfield. “At the same time, we should set standards for automobiles and power plants, the ‘bigger ticket items,’ since they create a great deal more pollution.”

Bill Update: SB 46 unanimously passed in the Senate on Feb. 23 and has gone to the House for consideration.

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