Peoria Journal Star

February 28, 2005

Blagojevich chairs Midwest Governors Conference

BY Dori Meinertz
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON --Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Sunday began a one-year term as chairman of the Midwest Governors Conference.

As chairman, Blagojevich proposed that the 13 Midwestern states band together to toughen their air emissions standards for coal-burning power plants.

By itself, Illinois can't make significant progress on reducing emissions to meet federal Clear Air Act deadlines. Seven of the 13 states have areas where the air quality do not meet federal health-based standards.

"Air knows no boundaries so addressing emissions standards from a regional standpoint make sense ..." said Blagojevich after hour-long meeting attended by six of the 13 governors.

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Renee Cipriano said she is making contact with her counterparts in the other states to begin discussions on tightening the states' standards.

The Chicago area is required to meet the fine particulate standards by 2010, but state officials estimate it won't be able to do so until 2020. Pending congressional proposals would make that even more difficult.

A state study last fall determined that Illinois' economy could be hurt if it tried alone to tighten emissions standards for older, coal-burning power plants that are now exempt from the strictest federal regulations.

Blagojevich said a regional approach also could help revitalize the Illinois coal industry, which was dramatically hurt by federal Clean Air Act amendments passed in 1990. More power plants chose to use low-sulfur coal installing costly equipment that scrubs the smokestack exhaust at plants that burn Illinois' high-sulfur coal.

Blagojevich also urged other Midwestern states to join the state's low-cost prescription drug program and its efforts to ease traffic congestion by offering motorists the opportunity to buy a "pass" to avoid long lines at toll booths.

The Midwest governors met in conjunction with the National Governors Association annual winter meeting here this weekend.

Blagojevich arrived Friday night and was scheduled to return to Illinois Sunday night, missing the governors' traditional meeting at the White House on Monday.