SPRINGFIELD – In honor of Earth Day, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a new Replanting the Prairie State initiative to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The effort, which will plant more than two million more trees throughout the state in the next year and engage young people in conservation efforts, builds on steps the Governor has already taken to address the threat of global climate change.
Under the plan, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) will plant the trees mainly on state-owned lands and launch a Youth Conservation Corps, a summer work program focused on enlisting young people in stewardship projects to protect and enhance natural areas. In addition, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will provide grants to assist local communities in planting native trees and grasses along roadways. By trapping carbon dioxide in plants and soil, all three components of the Governor’s Replanting the Prairie State initiative will help meet his goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
“Planting more trees and prairie grasses will not only make our communities more beautiful and livable, it can also help us tackle one of the most serious threats facing our world,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Engaging young people in these efforts will help preserve our state’s natural heritage, and help grow the next generation of environmental leaders who will guide our nation to a cleaner, more sustainable future.”
Planting two million additional native trees annually, such as burr oak, sugar maple, American elm and cottonwood, will absorb approximately 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually by 2020, equivalent to taking 36,000 cars off the road. The program administered by IDNR’s Nursery Reforestation Program will help restore and preserve forests and grasslands while also limiting further incursion of non-native trees and other plants that threaten indigenous species.
Additional native trees and prairie grasses will be planted statewide through the Illinois Department of Transportation new Illinois Green Streets initiative. Beginning in summer 2007, IDOT will direct $5 million in federal transportation funds to provide matching grants to municipalities and local governments for planting trees and prairie grasses along highways and major streets to beautify their communities and further reduce greenhouse gasses. IDOT will administer funds through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.
To help further protect and enhance Illinois’ natural areas, IDNR will create the Illinois Conservation Training Corps, a 12-week summer employment program for up to 120 young people ages 16-19. Corp members will work along side IDNR professional staff to control plant trees, exotic species, restore prairies, collect seeds and assist IDNR staff on projects such as species inventory and surveys, vegetation mapping and research. These activities will help preserve and improve natural areas, including habitats for endangered and threatened species, high quality natural communities, wetlands and other properties exhibiting unique or unusual natural heritage qualities. In addition to the environmental and climate change benefits, the Conservation Corps will help prepare students for future work in conservation and natural resource related fields.
“Adding trees and other native foliage will help reduce greenhouse gases while restoring habitats and beautifying communities,” said IDNR Acting Director Sam Flood. “Providing new opportunities for young people and local communities to participate in these efforts will deliver great benefits when it comes to protecting our natural heritage.”
“IDOT is very pleased to be able to offer communities across Illinois a chance to beautify their streetscapes by planting trees and native grasses along local roadways,” said IDOT Acting Secretary Milt Sees. “We believe the Illinois Green Streets Initiative will not only help our environment and improve air quality, but will also improve the quality of life throughout the state.”
The state is also expanding tree planting by the private sector through the Illinois Conservation and Climate Initiative (ICCI), a partnership developed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Through the ICCI, Illinois companies pay farmers and other landowners to plant trees and grasses in order to offset greenhouse gas emissions these companies emit. Illinois is the only state government to offer farmers and other landowners the opportunity to earn and sell greenhouse gas emissions credits by adopting conservation practices.
The first annual payments, totaling nearly $300,000, will be made this year to 190 Illinois landowners who have planted more than 2 million trees on 8,500 acres. The payments help cover the costs for planting and maintaining trees and grasses that also benefit the environment by creating wildlife habitat and limiting soil and nutrient run-off to streams and lakes. Carbon credits are sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), North America’s only, and the world’s first, GHG emissions registry, reduction and trading system. As part of the State’s global warming initiative, Illinois joined New Mexico to become only the second state in the nation to join the CCX. As a CCX member, the state makes a voluntary, but legally binding, commitment to reduce GHG emissions from state buildings and vehicle fleets.
“We are all proud of how our farmers and other landowners and private businesses in Illinois are stepping up to the plate to be part of the solution to the challenge of global warming,” said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott.
Today’s announcement builds on steps already taken by Gov. Blagojevich to establish Illinois is a national leader in addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
· In February 2007, Gov. Blagojevich announced a statewide goal to slash the production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020 and 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Governor charged Climate Change Advisory Group with recommending strategies to meet these GHG reduction goals. The advisory group, convened by the Governor, is comprised of business leaders, labor unions, the energy and agricultural industries, scientists, and environmental and consumer groups from throughout the state. The group will meet over a six-month period to identify measures to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gases and make recommendations to the Governor.
· In February 2007, the Governor joined California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and executives from BP to launch the Energy Biosciences Institute to be based at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign and the University of California, Berkeley. The $500 million effort funded by BP will invest in research next-generation homegrown biofuels made from crops that will cut GHG emissions, boost America's energy independence and create new markets for Illinois farmers.
· In January 2007, Gov. Blagojevich celebrated final approval of rules he introduced to dramatically improve air quality and protect public health by dramatically slashing mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from the three largest coal-fired power plant companies in Illinois, Midwest Generation, Ameren, and Dynegy. The agreements include commitments to shut down three of the oldest, least efficient boiler units, leading to a reduction of 2.1 million tons of CO2 annually.
· Last fall, Gov. Blagojevich's announced his global warming initiative to combat global climate change. As part of the Governor's global warming initiative, Illinois joined New Mexico to become only the second state in the nation to join the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). As a CCX member, the state makes a voluntary, but legally binding, commitment to reduce GHG emissions from state buildings and vehicle fleets.
· Last summer, Gov. Blagojevich announced an ambitious plan to meet the state's energy needs by investing in wind power and cleaner burning renewable fuels that will cut greenhouse gas emissions. The plan also includes a proposed pipeline to help capture carbon dioxide emissions from new coal gasification plants.
· Last July, the Governor announced the State of Illinois would begin powering 141 Springfield-based facilities under his control with clean renewable wind energy purchased from the Springfield's municipal utility company, City Water Light and Power.
· In early 2006, Illinois launched the Illinois Conservation Climate Initiative (ICCI) in partnership with the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and the Delta Institute. The ICCI offer farmers and other landowners the opportunity to earn and sell greenhouse gas emission reduction credits through CCX when they take steps to trap carbon dioxide and reduce methane emissions by using conservation tillage and planting grasses and trees. These practices keep carbon in the soil and plants instead of being released as carbon dioxide. Illinois is the first state to sponsor such a program.
· The State has taken numerous steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicle fleet and to expand the availability and use of cleaner burning biofuels, including:
o Reducing the overall number of state vehicles by 11 percent, from 13,635 in 2003 to 12,100 now
o Increasing the number of flex fuel vehicles (that can run on gasoline or 85% ethanol fuel) in the state fleet from 1,339 in 2000 (10 percent of fleet), to 1,944 now (16 percent of fleet)
o Increasing the use of renewable and cleaner burning ethanol and biodiesel in the state fleet. More than 1 million gallons of biofuels have been consumed by state vehicles since April 2004.
o The record demand for E-85 in the State’s fleet has helped make Illinois a national leader in the commercial availability of biofuels. State grants to gas station owners for converting their fuel pumps to E-85. Since 2004, the number of Illinois gas stations selling E-85 has increased ten-fold from 14 to 140.