IEPA enforcement referrals dropped under Rauner

Gov.-elect Pritzker pledges to ‘protect the environment in Illinois’

 Gov. Rauner has overseen staff cuts at the IEPA, which has seen case referrals for enforcement drop dramatically. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Gov. Rauner has overseen staff cuts at the IEPA, which has seen case referrals for enforcement drop dramatically. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Amid charges of deep staff cuts at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, it has referred far fewer cases to the Office of the Attorney General for enforcement under Gov. Bruce Rauner.

According to data provided by Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, the IEPA averaged 143 case referrals a year seeking enforcement of environmental laws in the second term of Rauner’s predecessor, Gov. Pat Quinn, but has averaged just 80 a year since Rauner took office in 2015.

In fact, IEPA typically referred between 200 and 300 cases a year to the state attorney general under Gov. George Ryan and in the first years of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s first term. That fell below 200 under Blogojevich and his successor, Quinn. But under Rauner case referrals have dropped below 100 each year. Through September of this year, the IEPA had referred just 59 cases to the attorney general for enforcement.

Rauner has boasted of freeing business from regulation under his administration, and indeed the data suggest his EPA has been reluctant to press cases and compel enforcement from the Office of the Attorney General. In fact, groups like the Sierra Club and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment have complained that they’ve been pressed into watchdog roles as the IEPA neglects its responsibilities.

That has also landed the IEPA in hot water over businesses like Sterigenics, blamed for a cancer cluster surrounding Willowbrook, and other firms emitting the carcinogen ethylene oxide, to cite just one prominent environmental issue.

With the state in longterm financial distress, the IEPA has been one of the government agencies that have suffered most. According to a story earlier this year from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, staff has been cut in half over the last 15 years, from 1,260 down to 635 last year, and 190 full-time staffers have been cut under Rauner. According to that story, the agency is budgeted for 768 positions, but remains “significantly understaffed.”

Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax has reported repeatedly on the “hollowing out” of state government, with budgeted positions left unfilled and the money diverted elsewhere. Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has pledged to address that, and not just at the IEPA.

 Gov.-elect Pritzker has pledged to “protect the environment in Illinois.” (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Gov.-elect Pritzker has pledged to “protect the environment in Illinois.” (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

“As J.B. transitions into office, he’s looking forward to bringing stakeholders together to protect the environment in Illinois,” said spokesman Jason Rubin. “J.B. knows climate change is a real threat and that we have a responsibility to our children and to the future of our state to act.

“As governor, J.B. will put Illinois on a path towards 100 percent clean, renewable energy, invest in clean-water infrastructure, and expand energy-efficiency efforts,” he added. “He’ll prioritize strengthening and rebuilding Illinois agencies to protect our environment, including (the Illinois Department of Natural Resources), IEPA, and the Illinois Environmental Justice Commission.”

Pritzker also plans to counter inaction at the federal level by entering Illinois into the U.S. Climate Alliance and standing up to President Trump’s attacks on the environment.

The Sierra Club called that critical in the current environment.

“The significant decline in IEPA staffing, science, and enforcement actions during the Rauner administration are especially troubling in light of the major cuts and rollbacks proposed by the Trump Administration for U.S. EPA,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter.  “If we are keep making progress toward cleaner air, land, and water, Illinois is going to have to step up where Trump's EPA steps back — both in terms of capacity but also policies.

“We're optimistic that Gov.-elect Pritzker and his team understand this and will make it a priority,” he added. “We're well aware that state government is in bad shape, and that rebuilding IEPA will not happen overnight, but glad we'll soon have a governor who understands the importance of IEPA's mission, and look forward to working with him and his team to rebuild Illinois capacity to protect our environment.”