“What’s the number one thing people can do to help the environment?” Cam Davis mused. “Vote. Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote, vote, vote.” Davis, a former Obama adviser, was joined at the panel discussion by Sri Rao of Stop Sterigenics and Mark Krivchenia, a Steward for Deer Grove Forest Preserve.
Davis was President Barack Obama’s adviser on the Great Lakes, more recently a wildly successful write-in candidate for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Voting for candidates that are responsive to environmental concerns is key, the panel agreed. The April 22 event in honor of Earth Day was co-hosted by Greater Palatine Area Democrats, NWSOFA, and Illinois Sixth District Democrats, and held at Palatine Library.
As a water reclamation board commissioner, Davis explained that the MWRD board recently approved creating an independent inspector general to scrutinize the MWRD’s operations – the first time the 130-year-old agency, with a $1.1 billion annual budget, has turned the spotlight on itself.
Rao kept the audience of over 40 people rapt as he explained how, in a matter of months, he turned from an ordinary citizen to a citizen activist fighting not only Sterigenics, the biggest chemical producer in the state, but also laxity at state and federal EPAs, and lack of state legislative oversight. Rao lives near a Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook where residents learned last August that the plant has been pumping massive amounts of the carcinogen ethylene oxide into the air of the nearby residential neighborhood for decades. Residents formed Stop Sterigenics, and through highly invigorated protests, the group has pressured local and state politicians enough that the plant is temporarily closed down. Rao said his group is working on a bill that would address these kinds of emissions. Check the group’s website, www.stopsterigenics.com, where they will place an alert on that action item.
Palatine is facing its own environmental issue. Krivchenia, of the Deer Grove Stewards, explained that the Cook County Board will soon be deciding on how much to widen Quentin Road as it passes through Deer Grove Forest Preserve between Dundee and LakeCook Roads in Palatine. Local environmentalists would like to see the expansion limited to three lanes – one in each direction, with a turn lane in the middle. Road engineers are proposing a 5-lane road, which would disrupt the fragile ecosystem that exists in the preserve. Watch for an action item on that vote. (The item is not on the April 24 agenda, and the May 23 meeting agenda is not yet posted.)
Deer Grove East had been a working farm when it was included in the preserve, Krivchenia explained, and the Stewards have been working for years to return the land to its original, pre-Columbian state of prairie, savannah and wetland.
Taking action is the most important thing regular people can do, Rao urged. Politicians consider “every email equals ten people, every phone call equals 40 people, but showing up at a meeting equals 100 people,” he said. “Go to the County Board Meeting, sign up and talk. No one goes to these things. Go and talk….. and vote!”