One month after receiving a $20,000 contribution from one of the world’s largest producers of ethanol, Chicago’s most powerful alderman on Wednesday breathed new life into his plan to require Chicago gas stations to offer motorists a higher ethanol blend of fuel known as E-15.
At the start of every new term of the City Council, aldermen approve a resolution that kills all pending legislation from the old Council. It’s a way to clean the slate and start again.
That’s what happened Wednesday at the second official meeting of the new term. Monday’s inauguration was technically the first.
But the “kill resolution” that Ald. Edward M. Burke co-sponsored keeps alive the E-15 ordinance by excluding“any matter ordered to be deferred and published on or after Dec. 10, 2014.”
That just happens to be the day when Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s concern about over-burdening small business stalled City Council approval of the environmental mandate. Three mayoral allies used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the vote on that day.
Asked Wednesday if he made the exception to keep E-15 alive, Burke told reporters, “I didn’t specifically note that. I’ll check.”
Last month, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos reported that one of the three political funds that Burke controls recently received a $20,000 contribution from Archer Daniels Midland Co.
The agribusiness giant is one of the world’s biggest producers of ethanol.
Mihalopoulos questioned whether the $20,000 check, ADM’s biggest in seven years to any Illinois politician, might signal a renewed push for Burke’s stalled ordinance requiring the sale of gasoline with a higher percentage of ethanol. That would be a boon to ADM.
Two days after Burke muscled the E-15 ordinance through his Finance Committee, Emanuel blocked a vote on the full Council floor.
The mayor argued then that the clean-air ordinance “needs more work.” He was concerned the requirement would place too heavy a burden on the owners of independent gas stations.
Burke reacted angrily to the delay and to the suggestion that the E-15 mandate he championed appeared to be “going nowhere” because of the mayor’s opposition.
The stalled but still-alive ordinance would make Chicago the nation’s first major city to require gas stations to offer a more environmentally friendly blend of fuel that includes 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Some E10-blend gasoline already is sold in the Chicago area.
“I don’t think its over-burdening small business because only 100 gas stations would be affected . . . with the amendments we adopted to reduce the number of locations. There’s also $11 [million] available to retrofit the pumps,” Burke said in December.
“I don’t know how you’ve concluded it’s not going anywhere. Why would you say that? It is going someplace. It has been approved by 11-to-4 in committee and I believe there’s a majority of members of City Council who are prepared to vote in favor of this,” he said then.
Burke got even testier, and stormed off, when a reporter noted that Emanuel appeared determined not to bring the ordinance to a vote.
“Well, it was deferred today. But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming to a vote. I don’t know how you conclude it’s not going anywhere. I don’t understand your term. That’s enough, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, before abruptly ending the interview.
Emanuel made it clear on that day that he was behind the parliamentary maneuver that three of his allies used to put off the E-15 vote.
“It needs more work. . . . Before we take a step like that, this ordinance needs a little more time to be thought through and done in a way that doesn’t put undue burdens on the small businesses, but also makes sure that our goal as a city from an environmental policy is also met,” the mayor said.
“You have individual franchisee owners,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure the financial burden on them is not over-bearing.”
Emanuel was asked whether there was “some form” of the ordinance that might win his support.
“That’s a hypothetical I’m not gonna answer. . . . I’ll make that determination working with all members of the City Council,” he said.
“We’re making tremendous [environmental] strides. We closed two coal plants. You know I’m working on the pet coke issue. . . . If we do anything on E-15, I don’t want to rush it,” he said. “We’re gonna take the time because before we take that step is the only time you can. And I want to make sure we do it right — both from an environmental standpoint and as it relates to our small businesses.”
By keeping the E-15 ordinance alive, Burke has made certain that a high-stakes debate that has become a full-employment program for clout-heavy lobbyists will rage on for a while longer.
The debate has played out on full-page newspaper ads and in radio commercials aimed at swaying public opinion.
It has pitted big oil against the agriculture industry that produces corn converted to ethanol. Environmental and health groups also have supported E-15 while the AAA Chicago Motor Club, gas stations owners and retailers have lined up against it.