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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 06:17 pm

Letters to the Editor


Policy wonk

Your article on Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn [see “Governor in waiting,” Dec. 18] brought back memories. When he was state treasurer in the early 1990s, I researched public policy issues and wrote press releases for Quinn before moving on to a second career in academic life. You captured the essence of the guy.

Quinn wasn’t just about ethics reforms and photo ops. I was as far down in the pecking order as you can be and still work in the Statehouse (my desk was in a storage attic above the Banking Division), so I wasn’t involved in his policy decisions. But I read the clips. In fact, I cut them out and faxed them up to the Chicago office.

More of the clips were more positive than I would have expected from a guy who was still blamed for the legislative Cutback Amendment, and they were oriented more to government and the economy than politics. Taking office during a sharp economic downturn in 1991, Quinn used the linked deposit program of the treasurer’s office to help finance affordable housing, economic development, small business startups and job retention packages all over the state, to, in his words, “jump-start the economy.”

I remember Quinn as an omnivorous reader who wanted to know more about practically everything. He’d call me into his office, ferret through the papers on his desk and hand me a half dozen slips of three-by-five memo paper with two or three words, or maybe a book title scrawled on them.

Ask anyone who’s worked for Pat Quinn about those little slips of paper. At first I thought they reflected his spur-of-the-moment flights of curiosity. But he never forgot about them. In time I learned they were definitely part of a system, and you were meant to follow up on every one of them.

In a two-week period around Thanksgiving 1992, for example, I got three-by-five slips asking about the allocation of Illinois lottery funds; a study of housing trends in the Chicago area by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.; John Naisbitt’s Megatrends for Women, a pop sociology book then on the bestseller list; the Kennedy School of Government’s innovation awards; an article on TQM (short for “total quality management,” the business school buzzword of the day) initiatives in Florida and Massachusetts; and a Carnegie-Mellon University study titled “Improving Local Service Through Intergovernmental and Intersectoral Cooperation.”

So where others saw Quinn as a gadfly and/or a rising political star, I saw him basically as a policy wonk. After some of the adventures of the last four to eight years, I think we could use a policy wonk in the governor’s office for a change.

Pete Ellertsen


Signs of slurry trouble

I am not against coal mining. Nevertheless, the possible reopening of Monterey Mine No. 1, is of concern. It is important that all applicable mining rules be strictly adhered to for the protection of the environment and human health.

Applicable mining rules require at a minimum the slopes of the huge coal slurry impoundments
be vegetated, and obviously they are not. The erosion and contaminant seepage are signs of trouble on the south face of the coal waste slurry impoundment #6 at Monterey 1 in Carlinville.

The impoundment is estimated to hold 25 to 30 million cubic yards of gob and slurry. If it’s two-thirds slurry then it’s 4 billion gallons. This is much larger that the recent coal waste impoundment failure in Tennessee. Will the new mine owner fix the high hazard dam at Monterey 1?The coal waste is slurry sludge left over from washing coal. All coal waste impoundments contain very toxic metals, such as arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and selenium. The lake that provides drinking water for Carlinville is near the mine waste impoundments.

Permanent waste impoundments are not allowed and a mine permit’s Operation Plan must describe removal of waste impoundments. Yet this is not the case for the existing Monterey 1 permit. If left permanently, engineers tell me that the dams will eventually fail; it is only a matter of time.

There is no reason why the prosperity that the reopening of the mine might provide should be compromised by allowing the mine to avoid existing mining rules and regulations.
Mary A. Bates

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