New leadership can help save Bell Bowl Prairie

There seems little question that at least a portion of the prairie would qualify for nature preserve dedication, as it is of outstanding ecological quality

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Bell Bowl Prairie.

Photo by cassi saari

Illinois has one of the strongest laws to protect natural areas of any state — the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act. The Act provides for dedication of land as nature preserves, and land so dedicated is protected in perpetuity from both private and governmental action. However, dedication requires the affirmative act of the landowner. As of May 2021, there were 412 dedicated nature preserves totaling 61,662 acres in Illinois. This land has been dedicated by the owners, including the State of Illinois, forest preserve districts, and a large number of private owners. Administration of the Act is overseen by the Nature Preserves Commission, consisting of nine unpaid volunteers, and a small professional staff.

Bell Bowl Prairie is owned by the Greater Rockford Airport Authority. There seems little question that at least a portion of the prairie would qualify for nature preserve dedication, as it is of outstanding ecological quality. The prairie is threatened by expansion of the Rockford Airport. However, the airport authority has not requested nature preserve dedication and until it does, there is little the Nature Preserves Commission can do.

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Fortunately, in response to a suit filed in U.S. District Court by the Natural Land Institute, the Airport Authority agreed on Thursday evening to suspend construction until March 1. During that period, the authority will continue to consult with the FAA, Illinois DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explore alternative designs that will protect the prairie.

The Sun-Times editorial correctly pointed out that the commission has been without a director for six years. During that period, other staff members have performed the duties of that role, in addition to the responsibilities of their customary positions. However, they have been handicapped by the fact that they did not have the authority to represent the commission as its director.

Fortunately, under the leadership of Colleen Callahan and John Rogner, director and assistant director of the Illinois DNR, authority to hire a director has been obtained and the search for one is well underway.

On behalf of the Nature Preserves Commission, I applaud the Sun-Times for its continuing coverage of the commission and its need for the leadership of a director.

George Covington, chair, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission

Redistricting hearings put politics above public interest

As a high school civics teacher, it’s my job to teach our youth about government accountability, separation of powers, fair elections and other principles of American democracy. I testified before the Illinois Redistricting Committee. and I witnessed first-hand how public hearings on redistricting and the input process for under-represented groups was an exercise in name only.

In reality, for me and for other individuals and groups, the redistricting hearings were disingenuous and secretive. Key information was held back, and that only fuels distrust in government and the politicians we elect. The politicians in charge of the remap had their own agenda, and nothing the public said was going to change that.

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We can only hope that the judicial branch can offer a necessary check-and-balance mechanism, and rectify the egregious abuse of power displayed by state legislators who put politicians’ interests over the public good. There is still time for political power to be distributed fairly according to our Constitution and the population guidelines.

The courts could end up deciding this chapter in our history. If and when they do, I sincerely hope it proves we have a political system that is fair and provides justice for all.

Froylan Jimenez, Chicago Public Schools civics teacher, Bridgeport

Carbon pricing the right step to fight climate change

A climate emergency is a fair description of the world after a summer filled with fire, heat, and flooding. The recent article “EPA employees begging President Biden for a climate emergency declaration” is a signal of just how limited the agency’s powers have become in the wake of the previous administration. Although emergency declarations are crucial to empowering the EPA under the current leadership, the way to lasting change is through legislation.

Democrats in Congress are working on a budget reconciliation bill set to be the biggest action on climate change ever undertaken in this country. Congress is considering a powerful emissions-limiting strategy: carbon pricing.

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A carbon price has bipartisan support, and would tax oil and natural gas at the source. In doing so, polluters pay for the damage they are doing to our climate. Set correctly, a carbon price could help us reach the key goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% nationally by 2030, and set us on the path of being carbon neutral by 2050. It’s important that a carbon dividend — a repayment to American households of carbon price proceeds — be passed as well, so lower- and middle-class households can make the changes necessary to reduce emissions while maintaining the same standard of living.

Emergency declarations can limit damage, but last only as long as the president stays in office. We can take multiple approaches at once. Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth should continue to advocate strongly for a carbon fee and dividend policy.

We’re running out of time.

Michael Holler, Montclare

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