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Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:56 am

Junior lobbyists revved up to decrease tailpipe emissions

Illinois would join 14 other states in adopting California standards

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Bryan and Jane Mathie, with sons Julien and Liam, lobby for the Illinois Clean Cars Act at the State Capitol on Mar. 18.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

Julien and Liam Mathie, 10- and 9-year-old brothers from the western Chicago suburb of La Grange Park, woke up at 5 a.m., put on suits and ties, and drove to Springfield with their parents last Wednesday to promote the Clean Cars Act. It was the second time the junior lobbyists — considered “pros” by Environment Illinois, dad Bryan says — joined other environmentalists at the State Capitol in pushing legislators to adopt stricter automotive emission standards.

Under HB 422, sponsored by State Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park, and SB 1941, sponsored by Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, Illinois would become the nation’s 15th state to reject the federal standard for auto emissions. Instead, as permitted by the national Clean Car Act, the Prairie State would implement stronger auto emission standards set by California in 2004. Auto manufacturers and owners would adhere to a graduated system that mandates lower emission levels from cars and light-duty trucks each year through 2020.

Most of the 14 that have tightened their tailpipes are coastal states, such as Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington. Brian Granahan, a staff attorney for Environment Illinois, says Illinois could incite change for the middle ground.

“It would be a great breakthrough if Illinois moved forward,” Granahan says. “It would signal the viability of this policy nationwide by showing that this can happen in the Midwest.”

According to Environment Illinois, Illinois would reduce global warming pollution from cars by 47.4 million metric tons by adopting the new legislation. The state would also save more than $9.6 million through reduced gasoline consumption.

Nearly 90 high school students from Chicago — clad in sky blue T-shirts with “Clean Cars. Save Money. Save the Planet” scripted in orange lettering — joined the Mathie brothers last week in lobbying legislators. Jose Rios, a sophomore from Curie Metropolitan High School, says he learned in a special class called “Forefront” that cleaner cars could help the troubled industry.

“It’s a leadership class,” he says. “Our teacher helps us develop leadership skills and teaches us how to make positive changes in our community.”

More and more children are talking about environmental issues, Granahan points out — an opportunity that wasn’t readily available when he was a kid.

“Younger people grasp environmental issues better than the older generations,” he says. “They’ve come to know that progress needs to be made with energy, and they are motivated to be involved.”

Julien, who one day plans to become a marine biologist, says he lobbies on environmental issues because he is “worried for the lakes.” Liam has asthma, a condition worsened by car pollution. They’re unique, their dad says. Because of their youth, lawmakers respond to them.

“We are trying to get our children to understand that they can get up and make a difference,” Bryan Mathie says.

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