SPRINGFIELD — Local officials for the most part were unimpressed with Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to ask the state EPA to investigate the process that enabled Peoria Disposal Co. to get approval to accept PCBs at its landfill in DeWitt County.
On Tuesday, Quinn's office released the contents of a letter it sent to DeWitt County Board Chairwoman Sherrie Brown and DeWitt County State's Attorney Karle Koritiz, asking for information about a 2002 meeting at which the board acted on a request to accept polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) waste at the Clinton landfill.
"The Mahomet Aquifer supplies more than 100 million gallons of water daily to 15 Illinois counties, and it needs to be protected," Quinn said in a statement. "Blocking PCB waste is the right thing to do for our environment and for hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents."
The aquifer, located far beneath a large section of central Illinois, supplies drinking water to an estimated 750,000 Illinoisans, including residents of Champaign-Urbana.
But several local officials said Quinn's direction to the state EPA was both long overdue and unnecessary.
"These guys had all this information from the beginning," said state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who said he was "livid" about Quinn's announcement Tuesday.
In the letter made public Tuesday, Illinois EPA chief counsel John Kim notes that the state EPA approved Peoria Disposal's application to dump PCBs at the landfill, "if authorized to accept those wastes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."
"Since approving that permit application," Kim writes, "the agency has received information that calls into question the extent of the DeWitt County Board's Sept. 12, 2002, siting approval, specifically whether the siting approval included approval to accept PCB wastes in (federal Toxic Substances Control Act)-regulated concentration."
Quinn's office said state law allows the Illinois EPA to modify a landfill permit upon the discovery that a decision was made using false or misleading information.
"In the transcript of a public hearing on the landfill permit from 2002, representatives of the Peoria Disposal Co. testified to the DeWitt County Board that the Clinton Landfill would not accept PCBs at federally regulated concentrations. Following that public hearing, the DeWitt County Board approved the location for the landfill, and the county board's action was the basis for IEPA approval of subsequent permitting requests from the company," Quinn's office said.
But Rose said Quinn's statements Tuesday were a smokescreen.
"They already have this. They don't need to call the DeWitt County Board. I've already given it to them a half-dozen times over the last five years. And it's already in the record of proceedings," Rose said. "I'm now in the unenviable place of being the whiny guy who finally got what he asked for and is still complaining. I don't really like being in that position, but I can't stand here and look at this self-serving press release" from Quinn.
"Let's just get it over with and pull the permit. He should have done this five years ago. It never should have been issued."
Champaign County Board Chairman Al Kurtz also said Quinn should "immediately" revoke the permit.
"I still believe that he has the authority to pull, suspend and revoke any licenses issued by the Illinois EPA and that he should certainly do that in light of the danger to our Mahomet Aquifer," said Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat. "I was hoping that this was going to be the beginning of the end, but it seems to me that going back to 2002 is counterproductive, to find out whether a siting is necessary at this point. These are dangerous chemicals and should be removed and stopped from being dumped on top of our drinking water."
Brown said she was "quite surprised" by the request from Quinn's EPA.
"The Illinois Pollution Control Board has the resolution that the current DeWitt County Board passed, stating that we thought they needed a new siting, and that's basically what they're asking us for," she said. "I know they have all of this stuff because it was in the governor's letter that this is in the documents the general public is giving him. So if he didn't have the documents, he couldn't make the statement. Maybe they just want confirmation."
Brown said the issue would be discussed at Thursday's county board meeting, along with a resolution calling for a referendum on whether toxic chemical waste should be disposed of at the Clinton landfill.
"I felt that we needed to take it back to the people again. We have new information on all of this," she said.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said Quinn "certainly could have acted sooner, but I'm glad it's done. But that doesn't mean we're done. I think it's perhaps saying that we're making progress to get his attention to getting the EPA to do what they're supposed to be doing. We need to protect our resource of water in East Central Illinois."
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said he was glad Quinn finally acted.
"I think we've seen the result of months or years of citizens' action to stop this finally being heard by the governor. As someone who attended many of the hearings and has been involved in efforts to curtail this, I'm glad to see the governor take this action," Frerichs said. "I don't want to focus on how long this has taken, but the fact that action is being taken. The most important thing is that action was taken before they started dumping PCBs over our aquifer."
Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he was "grateful" that Quinn moved to block the disposal of PBCs.
"It's easy to just kick the guy around and blame him, but at the same time, I sure wish it had been set up so that Chapin (Rose) and Mike (Frerichs) and myself and Laurel (Prussing, mayor of Urbana) and Mahomet and Savoy and others would have had a little bit more authority to nip this thing in the bud and work with the IEPA in the first place to take care of it," Gerard said. "I think it's a beginning of the end in terms of this one issue, but I want to stress to people that this is by no means a message that we have taken care of it. They are already storing toxic wastes, besides PCBs, over the aquifer. We need to keep on them and keep adding to the coalition."
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said a group of mayors recently met with the governor and his staff in Springfield.
"My question to the EPA was, 'If the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't protect water, what are we going to protect?' So this is great news," she said.
State Rep. Adam Brown called Quinn's announcement "a win for the 750,000 central Illinois residents, including Champaign, who rely on the Mahomet Aquifer for their drinking water.
"While many of us had hoped the governor would have acted sooner, anytime we can avoid the dumping of hazardous chemicals directly over our drinking water supply, we'll take it."
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois EPA is asking DeWitt County officials for more information in order to block the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at a Clinton landfill.
Landfill concerns? Let Tom Kacich know about them here 
In a letter dated today and made public by Gov. Pat Quinn's office, the state EPA's top lawyer asked DeWitt County Board Chair Sherrie Brown and DeWitt County State's Attorney Karle Koritz for more information about a county board meeting 12 years ago where officials from Peoria Disposal Company sought a landfill permit.
The landfill is located directly above the Mahomet Aquifer, the drinking water source for an estimated 750,000 central Illinoisans.
But state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said Quinn's move today was long overdue.
"It's about damn time," he said. "I brought this exact thing up at a public hearing last week in Champaign. I said I think it's great that Gov. Quinn last month sent the letter to the U.S. EPA (asking it to deny Peoria Disposal's request to dispose of PCBs at the landfill). We appreciate that, but if he really wanted to do something he could just direct (the state) EPA to revoke the existing permit because there was never a local siting hearing done. And the position that he has taken, his EPA has taken to protect that permit now jeopardizes our water supply but is contrary to what even (Attorney General) Lisa Madigan says. She has signed onto the local consortium's lawsuit."
In the letter made public today, Illinois EPA chief counsel John Kim notes that the state EPA approved Peoria Disposal's application to dump PCBs at the landfill "if authorized to accept those wastes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."
"Since approving that permit application," Kim writes, "the Agency has received information that calls into question the extent of the DeWitt County Board's September 12, 2002, siting approval, specifically whether the siting approval included approval to accept PCB wastes in (federal Toxic Substances Control Act)-regulated concentration."
In a press release accompanying the letter, Quinn's office said that the action "is part of Governor Quinn's agenda to protect our natural resources and ensure a clean and healthy environment for future generations.
"The Mahomet Aquifer supplies more than 100 million gallons of water daily to 15 Illinois counties and it needs to be protected," Quinn said. "Blocking PCB waste is the right thing to do for our environment and for hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents."
Quinn's office said that state law allows the Illinois EPA to modify a landfill permit upon the discovery that a decision was made using false or misleading information.
"In the transcript of a public hearing on the landfill permit from 2002, representatives of the Peoria Disposal Company testified to the DeWitt County Board that the Clinton Landfill would not accept PCBs at federally regulated concentrations. Following that public hearing, the DeWitt County Board approved the location for the landfill, and the county board's action was the basis for IEPA approval of subsequent permitting requests from the company," Quinn's office said today.
But Rose said the landfill's application to become a "chemical waste unit" required a second public hearing by the DeWitt County Board that never occurred.
"The point I made at that public hearing was that he could revoke the permit now," Rose said. "All we're doing now is wasting taxpayer dollars."
Rose said he had believes his remarks at a July 12 public hearing in Champaign may have prompted the governor to act.
"It's oddly peculiar that it's a week after I got up in front of the room and said that, including a lot of the people in his party," he said. "But I would suggest that it's more about looking to November (the gubernatorial election) that anything else. He could have done this at anytime in the last four years. Dozens of us in the Legislature sent letters pointing out all these problems over the last few years."