IFB state priorities move forward

Bills to avert farmland problems from commercial solar development passed by committees.

Ifb _state _priorities _move _forward _1_636592314119664849

New legislation in the Illinois General Assembly hopes to protect landowners from commercial solar developments by assuring land impacted by construction and deconstruction be properly restored. (Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois)

By Kay Shipman

Illinois Farm Bureau legislative priorities moved forward last week at the state Capitol. The Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee and the House Energy Committee both passed IFB’s priority bills requiring an ag impact mitigation agreement (AIMA) for commercial solar energy development.

All House and Senate committees faced a deadline to get bills out of committee.

“This is one of busiest weeks for the General Assembly. Legislators hustle from committee to committee to get their bills passed. They also spend a great deal of time in the committees hearing and voting on bills,” said Kevin Semlow, IFB director of state legislation.

SB 2591 and HB 4651 seek to avert farmland problems stemming from development of commercial solar energy projects. Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, sponsors SB 2591, and Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, sponsors HB 4651.

The legislation proposes to require commercial solar energy developers to enter into an AIMA with the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). The goal is to protect landowners and assure land impacted by construction and deconstruction be properly restored.

Illinois already requires AIMAs for commercial wind energy projects. AIMAs are often used for other energy projects, such as pipelines and transmission lines.

Related: Learn more about the push for solar AIMAs. Read more here.

IDOA uses AIMAs to set minimum wind energy and utility construction standards on agricultural land.

“A solar energy AIMA would not impact a county government’s authority to establish more restrictive standards for solar farm development. Likewise, an AIMA would not interfere with more restrictive county standards already in place,” said Bill Bodine, IFB associate director of state legislation.

Last week, the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee passed IFB’s state legislative priority to improve the Endangered Species Act. HB 5293 is sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton.

The legislation seeks to build on proactive opportunities related to prelisting of species on the federal endangered list. If such an agreement exists with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources would not require an additional permit under HB 5293.

The bill also seeks landowners to be represented on the state Endangered Species Protection Board. In addition, the legislation would raise awareness among Illinois residents when species are listed as threatened or endangered through a public hearing.

Currently, when the federal government lists a species as threatened or endangered, Illinois automatically lists that species without any notification around the state.

“The goal of the bill is to encourage participation in federal agreements by eliminating a duplicative permit requirement from the state,” said Bodine. “The bill will also provide landowners a voice on the Endangered Species Protection Board and help Illinoisans be more aware when species added to the state and federal list.”

Bodine continued, “The environmental community opposes the bill. We are working with members of the House of Representatives to encourage their support. If the bill becomes law, it will create improved endangered species protection that is less cumbersome and provide greater understanding of the endangered species process.”

Last week, the House Transportation Vehicles and Safety Committee passed an IFB state legislative priority, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, to extend the covered farm vehicle (CFV) designations to vehicles in the second division of 8,000 or fewer pounds that have specialty plates.

“HB 5598 corrects a technical oversight that occurred when legislation was approved a couple of years ago allowing B- and D-plated vehicles to receive the CFV designation,” explained Semlow. SB 3241, sponsored by Sen. Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, is identical and already on third reading in the Senate.

“We will be working with the sponsors on these priorities over the next couple of weeks to gain their passage,” Semlow said “The deadline to pass the bills in their original chamber is in a couple of weeks.”      

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