“Why call a bill if you know you know you don’t have the votes to pass it?…”
In September 2019 Rita Mayfield, the incumbent state representative for IL60th district, found herself in unchartered water. Her district was the second site identified as part of a massive Ethylene Oxide (EtO) poisoning in the state. However, her district did not have the swift protection of the governor’s pen to stop the risk to residents. Pressure from the FDA about supply chain concerns and powerful corporate interests, clearly, influenced Illinois politicians to make a choice evidenced by closing Sterigenics while the facilities in Lake County, Medline and Vantage, remain open.
To head off public outcry, a strategic plan was put into motion. This included distracting citizens groups from holding politicians responsible accountable, stalling legislation proposed by Representative Durkin which would empower home rule areas to set their own permitting limits and crafting legislation that merely appeared to be the answer while intending to kill it in committee. In the end, state politicians could simply shrug and carry on with business as usual.
It strategy was the worst kept secret in Springfield.
It was obvious that HB3888 was merely intended to provide cover for Rita Mayfield that even Capital Fax’s Springfield blogger, Rich Miller wrote, “The backstory is that Rep Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) has a primary opponent who is an EtO activist. So, they got the job done for her in the House….”
This is how machine politics made it happen.
Contrived and Complicit
In the Spring and Fall of 2019, Rita Mayfield was being challenged by citizen groups to act despite the objections of her corporate lobbyists donors and on the horizon, a new political rival was rising. This was Mayfield’s first serious political challenge since being appointed to her seat over a decade ago. The ruse was simple; propose legislation that appeared to take decisive action and her colleagues in Springfield would ensure it went nowhere.
In order to craft this Trojan horse bill, Mayfield did not call local scientists with comprehensive data, consult with the EtO experts who testified before Congress and the EPA in Washington, nor did she need impact and plat studies already on file with the county. Instead, Mayfield turned to lawyers like Jenn Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC) lobby group and StopSterigenics civic group. Mayfield has good reason to do so as some of these allies had done this before with a bait and switch fracking ban in 2014.
Fracking is Legal and Thriving in Illinois
In a recent campaign statement, Rita Mayfield stated, “I voted to end fracking,” despite no prohibition being passed in the legislature during her tenure as a state representative. In fact, the most significant legislation to be proposed, HB3086 “Hydraulic Fracturing Ban,” died in committee in 2013. The 2018 effort, SB3174 “Oil and Gas Well” merely limits methods applying intellectual property confidentiality disclosures on well sites and drilling methods.
Fracking is still alive and thriving in Illinois despite Mayfield’s claim.
The lawyer for IEC, Jenn Walling, made headlines with Sierra Club Chapter Director Jack Darin, over another 2014 botched effort to end fracking in Illinois. Darin, himself a supporter of natural gas extraction in Illinois gave talks on the benefits of natural gas in 2013 at the same time he was called on to assist in the fracking ban effort that Walling was negotiating with the Illinois Manufacturing Association.
That effort was revealed when the regulations citizen groups and farmers had fought for were stripped out of the legislation. Both Walling and Darin appeared stunned and scrambling to forestall public backlash. Huffington Post contributor, Jeff Biggers detailed the double cross in a scathing 2014 critique:
“And the frackers are celebrating tonight in Illinois—and thanking a handful of Chicago-based environmental groups who unwittingly played into their hands as outmatched cosponsors in ramming through admittedly flawed fracking regulations that will have disastrous impacts on downstate communities and our climate.”
Walling was quoted from her explanation to anti-fracking citizens that clearly contrasted her celebratory messaging just two weeks earlier:
“Even more pathetic, Illinois Environmental Council director Jen Walling wrote a confusing message to supporters that “we do not have any full and final information about what’s in them. It has been made clear to us through many channels that significant changes to the rules have been made that we are likely to object to.” Only two weeks ago, Walling claimed “the amazing team from NRDC, ELPC, Sierra Club, and Faith in Place have been working to make sure that JCAR doesn’t give a huge win to the fracking industry.”
Naturally, when one needs to craft similar legislation to throw citizens off the trail, Walling and the IEC with allies at the Sierra Club are among the first sought out in 2019 to help craft Mayfield’s signature bill HB3888.
Editor’s note: The Sierra Club’s local chapter affiliated with the IEC, has endorsed Mayfield for reelection.
A Failure of Leadership
The lobby efforts of the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association and health manufacturing companies helped the interests of industry members, but not necessarily the general public. They used millions in lobby dollars to sway the EPA and state officials.
Citizens had only their local and state representatives to rely on for stronger protections in the interest of public safety because it is the state that can set tougher regulations than even the EPA requires while also limiting and denying permits accordingly.
This precedent came in a Supreme Court decision Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. In the 2004 opinion, the Rehnquist Court ruled in favor of the rights of the state to set their own standards provided they met the minimum requirements enforced by the federal EPA guidelines. In the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:
“Under §110 of the Act, also added in 1970, each State must submit for EPA approval “a plan which provides for implementation, maintenance, and enforcement of [NAAQS].” 42 U. S. C. §7410(a)(1); cf. §7410(c)(1) (EPA shall promulgate an implementation plan if the State’s plan is inadequate). Relevant to this case, EPA has approved Alaska’s implementation plan. 48 Fed. Reg. 30626 (1983), as amended, 56 Fed. Reg. 19288 (1991); 40 CFR §52.96(a) (2002). To gain EPA approval, a “state implementation plan” (SIP) must “include enforceable emission limitations and other control measures, means, or techniques … as may be necessary or appropriate to meet the applicable [CAA] requirements.” 42 U. S. C. §7410(a)(2)(A).”
“While States have “wide discretion” in formulating their plans, Union Elec., 427 U. S., at 250, SIPs must include certain measures Congress specified “to assure that national ambient air quality standards are achieved,” 42 U. S. C. §7410(a)(2)(C). Among those measures are permit provisions, §7475, basic to the administration of the program involved in this case, CAA’s “Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality” (PSD) program.”
That was not the case for Medline and Vantage in Lake County.
The hope was in new proposed legislation – HB3888, a bill sponsored by Representative Rita Mayfield. Mayfield herself had largely been absent from related news, even declining to sign on the sponsor HB5983, “EPA-Ethylene Oxide Ban” submitted by anti-EtO advocate Representative Jim Durkin, himself a cancer survivor. Durkin’s bill prohibited any use of EtOs after the year 2022 and restricted renewal of air pollution operating permits for any facility that violated EPA limits. That bill was not permitted to move forward and awaits Speaker Madigan’s approval to revive it.
Instead, Mayfield needed her own signature legislation to point to her effort in the EtO regulatory fight. The reason was purely political.
Mayfield was finally facing a primary challenge after her appointment by Senator Terry Link a decade prior. This challenger, activist and EtO poisoning survivor, Diana Burdette, announced her run in August 2019, after expressing frustration at Mayfield’s apathy.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkn had just introduced legislation HB3885 that would allow home rule areas to set their own EtO limits autonomously without having to negotiate through the state legislature. At the same time Senators Durbin and Duckworth had become outspoken critics of the EPA’s handling of the industry regulations and air standards.
Burdette, pictured below front, second from left, with others in a meeting with Senator Tammy Duckworth, had been active since late 2018 and helped local activist groups push forward on the goal to achieve the same results communities in Willowbrook had.
She and StopETO co-founder Celest Flores, met with officials at the EPA in Washington to ask for stricter standards while at home, fellow members put pressure on local city and school board officials to join the fight. When Burdette returned home in March 2019 she was rebuffed by her representative, Rita Mayfield. Burdette and Flores saw an opportunity at an April 2019 open house hosed by Mayfield herself.
In that meeting Mayfield was apoplectic, insisting that the data offered by the activists wasn’t enough. “’I will listen to the EPA,’ she told us,” Burdette said during a Sun-Times candidate debate.
This was a stark contrast to the advocacy offered by Senator Duckworth and her staff who issued a strong statement in support of Waukegan residents:
“Even at low levels, ethylene oxide is dangerous to public health, yet the EPA keeps failing to protect many Illinoisans from breathing toxic air, and that’s unacceptable,” Duckworth said. “Sadly, environmental challenges like these disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. I know we can’t take back the damage already done in the Waukegan area, but I will keep working with local leaders like those I met with today to help improve the situation at hand in the months ahead.”
Duckworth’s own staff had been tasked to help craft meaningful legislation and they, working with members of the Union of Concerned Scientists, including Dr.
Dylan Burdette PhD., joined forces to assist Rep Mayfield. But when the new bill, HB3888, was presented by Mayfield on September 2, 2019, even Duckworth’s staff was stunned. They had never been called.
Mayfield had relied on representatives from the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), as well as volunteers from StopSterigenics from Willowbrook and StopETO from Waukegan. Scientists and data provided by The Union of Concerned Scientists was not on the table.
The original text of the proposed legislation was immediately met with pushback. The core issue was the requirement to store EtO tanks underground. This provision introduced new public health risks because EtO is highly volatile and is used in penetrator-style bunker buster bombs designed to detonate underground with a blast speed of Mach 6, or more than 4,000 mph. One of the facilities targeted by this law is located less than a mile from an elementary school.
EtO buried near public water ways poses a hazard of contaminating the water supply with the same toxicity as antifreeze due to reactive properties when introduced to drinking water additives like phosphoric acid or chlorine. This provision in HB 3888, if enacted, would have buried EtO tanks near major water junctions that feed into the city of Chicago’s public water supply serving 6.6 million residents.
“As we left the meeting, I commented to Rep. Mayfield, ‘You know they were lying right?’ Her reply to me was simply, ‘Yeah, I know’”.
In addition, the language of the bill relied on EtO measurements in parts per million which is an order of magnitude higher than the recommended parts per billion measurements for EtO airborne manufacture release at safe levels.
Clean Power Lake County and the Union of Concerned Scientists representative, Dr. Burdette, opposed the bill. On September 16, 2019, Dr. Burdette spoke of these concerns at a Waukegan city council meeting stating:
“Unfortunately, this was written without any input from the Environmental Justice community or Environmental Justice organizations. It is a problem we saw with the last bill and it is a problem that will become clear moving forward…the distance and amount limits listed in this bill are based on estimates using existing technology and do not rely of solid health and scientific technology. In this bill it describes instrumentation that is measuring in parts per million when we already know the dangers presented by ethylene oxide at thousands of times below that in parts per billion and parts per trillion.
“The third point that it introduces is the possibility of underground storage of ethylene oxide in our community…it introduces the possibility of tons of ethyne glycol being introduced into both the Des Plains river basin and the Chicago River north branch basin as well as introducing a sort of claymore affect where we will have bunkers full of essentially a ‘bunker buster’ munition within our community.”
Dr. Burdette was then asked to submit revisions that would be acceptable and given two hours to do so. His recommendations appear in Amendment 1 of HB3888. Among these changes was a requirement for Medline to submit to the same federal Risk Management plan that other facilities in the state must comply with. Vantage also was required to submit their own updated plan as theirs was over five years old. Medline balked and refused these new requirements.
On October 24, IEC representatives convened a meeting between four Medline staff, Representative Mayfield and two lawyers from the StopETO group. The only scientific expert in the room was Dr. Burdette who was not permitted to speak, he could only observe the discussion.
Of that meeting, Burdette witnessed Medline executives exaggerating about the regulations imposed by the law, the capacity of the scrubbers and the new stack and filtration equipment would test ‘cleaner’ than the air in Waukegan.
“As we left the meeting, I commented to Rep. Mayfield, ‘You know they were lying right?’ Her reply to me was simply, ‘Yeah, I know’”. Dr Burdette said, “I wasn’t allowed to do anything to change the discussion.”
Officials from Medline were reticent to accept the regulations proposed and had begun their own social media and protest campaign citing a potential for job losses, using the local leader of League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Waukegan Council # 5273 to do so. Julie Contreras has since endorsed Mayfield for re-election.
HB3888 co-sponsor, State Senator John Curran of Downers Grove, had not taken part in negotiations between lobbyists and industry attorneys in crafting the legislation.
By late October, the Illinois Legislature had already begun working to dismantle the regulations in the bill, having successfully stalled Durkin’s bill HB3885 with 17 “present votes” and three members not voting. Diana Burdette traveled with a coalition of grassroots and environmental groups to Springfield hoping to convince lawmakers to support the bill, “It was far from what I wanted, but at least it was something to keep this issue in the news.”
By the time HB3888 reached the Senate, existing problems with the bill continued to drag on. The erroneous measurements of parts per million were retained and few in the Senate were enthusiastic. Sources in Springfield admitted that the purpose of the bill was merely political, to aid Mayfield in her primary challenge. By the time HB3888 failed in the Senate, even Capital Fax was reporting on this stunt posting, “The backstory is that Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) has a primary opponent who is an ETO activist. So, they got the job done for her in the House…”
The harshest critic for HB3888 failure to pass the Senate comes from Mayfield herself.
Earlier in 2019, she was critical of colleague Will Guzzardi’s bill to lift the ban on discussing rent control across the state. She described that bill – which was just seven words in length– as “confusing” and added that Guzzardi never spoke to her about it.
Representative Mayfield explained, “Why call a bill if you know you know you don’t have the votes to pass it? There was a lot of opposition that came with this bill, the language needed to be changed, and if you want it passed, you have to sell it or be willing to work toward consensus. No one reached out to me to ask for support, I never spoke to Will [Guzzardi],“ she said.
“You can’t assume that because I have a ‘D’ behind my name I will just go along with it.”
If Mayfield was relying on her party colleagues to continue carrying the burden for her with HB3888, she miscalculated. It is far more likely she called a bill that was never intended to pass at all. She, in fact, needed it not to pass and to hold off citizens groups long enough, keeping them misdirected with appearances at local school boards and through online petitions to everyone except her, the represtative who could take action on their behalf.
Mayfield needs to win her primary race in order to make a compelling bid for Terry Link’s State Senate seat when he either steps down or is formally indicted and removed from office. Representatives from local trustees to the governor’s office need citizens not to notice, not to ask questions, and keep business as usual humming along in Waukegan. After all, there’s a casino coming and a lot of money to be made for those in the right places willing to go along with it all.