Committee interested in utility rates, wastes

By Mike Solley

Combating high utility rates and protecting the environment from hazardous wastes are the top priorities of the Illinois Senate Committee on Energy and Environment according to newly appointed chairman Pat Welch, D-Peru.

“The committee can be of help to the 38th Senatorial District (which includes DeKalb),” Welch said. “We (the members of the committee) think it will be an interesting year,” he said. The committee’s primary concerns, “utility and environmental legislation, are important to everybody,” Welch said.

A particular item of concern is pollution from gasoline leaking out of underground storage tanks, Welch said. Service stations in Lisbon, Marseilles, Peru and Streator report leakages through small holes in their underground tanks, he said. As a result, gasoline is seeping into ground water, Welch said. “The committee hopes to come up with a legislative program to stop problems like this before they start,” Welch added.

Another issue to come before the committee is the transfer of the management of nuclear power plants from Commonwealth Edison to an independent company, Welch said. “We (the committee) may need to introduce legislation to help encourage it,” he said.

The formation of a separate company to handle nuclear power would be beneficial to the people of Illinois, Welch said. “Forming a separate company that can compete with the utility companies may mean lower utility rates for everyone,” he said.

The Committee on Energy and Environment is the result of the breaking up of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Energy Committee into the Agriculture and Conservation Committee and the Committee on Energy and Environment.

Senate President Phil Rock, D-Oak Park, said the committee was divided to address more issues directly. “With the increasing concern over public utilities in Illinois, we (the Illinois Senate) felt the issues and the citizens of Illinois were better served (if the committee was divided),” he said.

Welch, who was appointed chairman Jan. 29, was a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Energy Committee. “Welch has been a leader in the Illinois General Assembly on energy and environment issues,” Rock said. “He (Welch) is a strong voice for the people of Illinois in their fight against high utility costs,” Rock added.

As a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Energy Committee, Welch also was part-author of comprehensive legislation concerning hazardous wastes. The Toxic Waste Task Force, of which Welch was a member, dealt primarily with legislation affecting the disposal of toxic wastes, Welch said.

Welch, currently serving his second term in the Illinois Senate, also has been reappointed as vice chairman of the Appropriations II Committee and as a member of the Committee of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Committee of Higher Education. During the 83rd and 84th General Assemblies, Welch served as a member of the committees of Public Health, Higher Education and the Legislative Reference Bureau.