Experts discuss environmental legislation at town hall in Evanston

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) attends a City Council meeting. At a Monday meeting, aldermen approves pay raises for the future City Council and city clerk.

Daily File Photo by Sean Su

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) attends a City Council meeting. At a Monday meeting, aldermen approves pay raises for the future City Council and city clerk.

Max Gelman, Gameday Editor

Evanston residents gathered for an environmental town hall hosted by state legislators Monday night to listen to proposals for new green laws.

Five panelists from groups such as the Sierra Club and the Illinois Environmental Council spoke about the environmental initiatives they are attempting to get passed at both federal and state levels. One such bill, co-sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), would establish lead testing in elementary school plumbing. Passed in May by the state Senate, the bill is currently in committee in the House.

“We really want to see schools and daycares — basically our youngest children — making sure they’re minimizing (lead) exposure,” said panelist Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “This (bill) is just step one, but there’s more that needs to be done to remove lead from your drinking water.”

About 100 people attended the town hall hosted at the Evanston Ecology Center by Biss and state Reps. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Laura Fine (D-Glenview). Biss told The Daily the goal of the evening was to inform citizens of the “challenges” in making environmental policy.

“You saw a really large and engaged audience, which was not surprising given the passion this community feels about these issues,” Biss said. “It was very encouraging given the tasks that lie ahead.”

Gabel and Fine will be seeking reelection to the Illinois House in the November election. Biss will not be on November’s ballot.

Biss called Evanston a leader in the state for advocating environmental policies, and said the devotion shown by Evanston residents to environmentally-friendly policies will spur surrounding neighborhoods to enact similar laws, Biss told The Daily. This year, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl was one of several American mayors invited to participate in the U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing in recognition of the city’s environmental work.

During the Q&A portion of the event, many questions focused on the use of harmful neonicotinoid chemicals, or “neonics,” in pesticides such as Roundup that kill off the bees and butterflies needed to pollinate plants and food.

Panelist Rebecca Riley, an attorney from the Natural Resources Defense Council who focuses on endangered wildlife, said neonics have resulted in as much as a 90 percent decline in the monarch butterfly population over the last two decades.

In response to a question about how neonics entered pesticides in the first place, Riley contrasted pesticide safety testing with that of pharmaceutical drugs. While drugs have to undergo rigorous safety testing, “with pesticides we do the reverse,” she said.

Even Biss joined in the questioning, asking about how to update FIFRA — or the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which instituted pesticide regulations in the U.S. in 1947.

Riley said that there isn’t a clear path to improve the law, though she said there was progress when the “similarly bad” Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which regulates the introduction of new chemicals, was updated in June.

“(Fixing TSCA) was something we’ve been working on for years and years and years, so I’ve been saying personally that we should go after FIFRA next,” Riley said. “People laugh at me whenever I say this because it’s a really big hill to climb. The industry is extremely powerful.”

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