Senate candidates go on the record on regional, state planning issues at MPC's 2010 Annual Luncheon - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Senate candidates go on the record on regional, state planning issues at MPC's 2010 Annual Luncheon

Michael Prischman for the Metropolitan Planning Council

Illinois' Senate candidates Alexi Giannoulias (D), Mark Kirk (R) and LeAlan Jones (Green)

At MPC’s 2010 Annual Luncheon on Monday, June 21, Illinois’ U.S. Senate candidates Alexi Giannoulias (D), Mark Kirk (R), and LeAlan Jones (Green) had the opportunity to explain their platforms for supporting the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's efforts in metropolitan Chicago, advancing the Livable Communities Act to create more sustainable communities nationwide, funding Illinois’ massive infrastructure needs, and keeping our water supply – the envy of the nation – safe and abundant.

Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet kept the crowd of nearly 900 Chicago-area corporate, civic, government and community leaders entertained, as she poked and prodded each candidate to provide clear answers to the four questions MPC provided the campaigns in advance, as well as to some “bonus” questions she had up her sleeve. Each candidate held the stage for 20 minutes; what follows are excerpts from their remarks in response to MPC’s questions (in bold), as well as to Sweet’s questions (in remarks).

See more photos of the luncheon on MPC's flickr page >

MPC is grateful to the dozens of generous sponsors who supported the MPC 2010 Annual Luncheon. This is MPC's only fundraising event of the year, and it provides critical revenue for our programs. Nonetheless, as a charitable organization, we continue to need to raise funds to do our work the whole year round. Whether you were or were not a sponsor this year, we ask that you continue to give generously to MPC so that we can continue to advance important issues, such as those the candidates addressed on Monday. Your gift makes a difference. Make a donation today!

MPC 2010 Annual Luncheon transcripts by candidate

Alexi Giannoulias
Mark Kirk
LeAlan Jones

MPC 2010 Annual Luncheon transcript excerpts

As a potential U.S. Senator, how would you make the most of regional planning organizations like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, specifically in the programming and disbursement of federal funds?



Lynn Sweet: There is an organization that's very important to the Metropolitan Planning Council; it's called the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.  It has a lot to do with helping the federal government spend money for transportation, land use and housing that's affordable to house the local work force.  If you're a senator, do you have a commitment to working with this organization?

Alexi Giannoulias: Yes.  When Congress created MPOs in the 1960s, there was a basic belief that every region should have a shared vision for their future.  And that there needed to be an organization through which that vision is facilitated and implemented.  At the heart of this is land use planning and transportation funding.  We all know that dollars are limited and the transportation projects go well beyond one city block, one neighborhood, one city, one community, which is why that regional approach is so incredibly important.  Now we are very fortunate to have one the finest MPOs in the United States.  CMAP has been an amazing leader on important infrastructure and transportation and interconnected communities for a very long time.  Most importantly, what CMAP has brought to the table is a long-term vision on where we need to be as a region in 30 years.  The GO TO 2040 project is very important.  It's the first long-term plan.  And it will have very positive impacts on our transportation systems, on land-use housing, land-use planning, affordable housing, school systems and economic development.  My concern, as a United States Senator, will be to make sure that all this planning that organizations, like CMAP and other MPOs, do isn't wasted.  And that's why the federal government needs to make that we do a better job of empowering these MPOs.  And this isn't necessarily about more money, this is about better use of existing funds.  If you look at, Lynn, right now federal programs on foreclosure preventions, brownfields redevelopment, affordable housing and transportation, what you see is that these are all great programs, but they lack that cohesiveness, that collaboration.  And instead of a long-term vision, we continue to get piecemeal progress.  So it's important that the federal government empowers these MPOS.

Lynn Sweet:  So you would not fight and you would work with the CMAP recommendations as it exists now?

Alexi Giannoulias:  Yes, they are a tremendous resource, especially when it comes to having a long-term vision. And it's imperative that the federal government do everything we can again to promote efficiency to work with CMAP and other MPOs.


Lynn Sweet: Congressman Kirk.  We're going to start with the same regional planning question, which is a cornerstone of what the Metropolitan Planning Council is about, where they look for strategies to use federal money in many different ways.  And they're very interested in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which, as I mentioned, deals with land use, affordable housing for local workforce and transportation.  They're looking to know if you have a commitment to working with this organization if you were a senator, and then tell us why or why not.

Mark Kirk: Yes.  The answer is absolutely.  I think I want to first frame the discussion, and then move on to the questions. We face a number of looming realities: shrinking revenues, runaway borrowing, irresponsible spending.  All that hreaten our long-term economic growth.  Just a few quick facts to set the stage.  The U.S. debt will soon eclipse our gross domestic product.  A resurging Taliban and Iran's nuclear ambitions threatened global security.  A collapsing Greek economy, destabilized global markets.  And some U.S. state governments are witnessing a collapse in their ability to sustain credit and borrow more. Now some way wonder if I’ve exaggerated the last point.  But I just want to show the slide up here of the latest Time magazine, which indicates the direction of state debt.  I will note that Moody's just recently downgraded Illinois debt.  And these realities need to be overcome.  We need to see the nation's problems as adults facing this critical funding shortfall with a prime goal of then overcoming that problem and increasing employment and incomes. To Lynn's question directly, I've worked with CMAP and its predecessor the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, represents some of the best and brightest.  And I want to particularly highlight Randy Blankenhorn's service to the region.  Many of you know that we require a planning organization for a jurisdiction over 50,000.  But it's no surprise that many times the distribution of federal funds from an office in Washington D.C. are not efficient and do not overcome traditional boundaries, which is why a regional planning organization that can cross county, municipality and even state boundaries is critical. I've got another slide if you'll indulge me.  It's talking about crossing boundaries.  Look at the star line, which is one of the critical infrastructure projects that is essential for the future of the State of Illinois.  This connects our job engine of O'Hare to the Western Suburbs in, what I would regard as, a critical synergy that makes a significant impact.  Or the next slide.  I've been a strong backer of public/private partnerships in the CREATE program.  CREATE being right at the center of that nest there that you can see.  And it's critical for Illinois because if you are going to compete in global markets in the 21st century, you've got to adjust to just-in-time inventory practices, and CREATE does that. Finally, we've got to upgrade our role of regional planning organizations in allocating federal funds.  As a senator, I would reach across the lines and I would hope to make the tough choices so that of the federal projects we can afford that we make the biggest difference. 


Lynn Sweet: So I want to start on the first one and your commitment to regional planning to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.  Do you think this is an organization that would be front and center if you were Senator as a candidate of the Green Party in planning our regional allocation of federal resources?

LeAlan Jones: I think it has to be.  I think, but unfortunately, all organizations, I think at certain levels, even like this organization here today, we lose sight of the people on the ground.  And what I want to do is to make sure that there is a comprehensive, transparent discussion between organizations like this that create the thought, that generate the ideas and the people on the ground who have to fundamentally live out those ideas.  Taking into consideration that we're planning for 2040, I always have to look back and say, well, let's look at 1970.  And looking at the fact that in 1970, any planning that would've been done relative to Chicago and this region, it was something that was behind.  Looking at Daniel Burnham and the fact that after World War I between World War II, we had over one million to two million African Americans relocate from the Southern part of the United States, coming north, which was very well documented in The Promised Land by Nicholas Lemann, which created the urban layout that exists today.  And I think that we've been behind since then because we created public housing to take away slum lords, and we've only created another circumstance in terms of the Plan for Transformation and the large amounts of money that went into that with private interest that when the housing mortgage market unfolded in 2008, unfortunately a lot of people and their living circumstances were caught in the bounds of that policy.  So, yes, I would support organizations, like MPC and CMAP, but I also would have to be very diligent in making sure that communities that have to live out these plans have a seat at the table, like we saw with the Whistler project in Riverdale.

As U.S. Senator, what will you do promote the Livable Communities Act, ensure the expansion of the Sustainable Communities Partnership, and engage the private sector in shaping new tools for sector growth and prosperity?



Lynn Sweet: Okay.  The next question has to do with a piece of legislation called the Livable Communities Act.  It's sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.  It's one of the pieces of legislation that he wants done before he leaves.  He had a hearing on it June 9.  First off, because I think everybody in this organization just wants to know, do you support it or not? 

Alexi Giannoulias:     I am a strong supporter of the Livable Communities Act, and I applaud the Obama Administration for putting together the Sustainable Partnership Initiative, which brings together the EPA, HUD and the Department of Transportation.  The reason that this partnership is so important is because we cannot develop sustainable communities without aligning transportation, land use, energy and housing policies.  We have to make sure that we work together and that collaboration is hugely important.  And the Livable Communities Act provides that long-term partnership and will institutionalize the partnership that was created by the administration so that we have one voice, we have one set objectives that brings everyone to the table. 


Lynn Sweet: Reaching across the lines, actually this is a good line to use to transition to our next question, which has to do with the Livable Communities Act, which is very important to this organization.  And as I mentioned earlier, there was a hearing on this in the Senate on June 9th.  It's Senator Dodd's bill.  I think he wants to leave this as a legacy action.  The organization is looking to know if you support it or not.  And just for background, talking about crossing lines, right now there are no Democrats, excuse me, there are no Republicans on the bill, I believe, in either the House or Senate version.

Mark Kirk: I'm supportive of its goals. … If we go the next slide, just see that when we look at CMAP's GO TO 2040 initiative, I think this is one of the best examples of strategic development.  Raise your hand, by the way, if you've read Devil In The White City.  This is my kind of group.  Which, as you know, is a poignant story of a crime, but also the story, the human story of Daniel Burnham.  Many of us think about the reputation of Chicago.  And if you think about our reputation pre-1930s, it was really the rise of the city from the ashes, the Columbian exhibition, the legacy of Daniel Burnham.  And I think this 2040 plan really reflects that legacy. If we go to the next slide … You see here, the development of the Rockford agenda.  Rockford we focused on because it has an unemployment rate of nearly 20%, 1,921 public housing units, 2,100 Section 8 Housing vouchers, making Rockford one of the most distressed communities in the State of Illinois.  You can't bring back a city like that without action, action by the EPA to speed up the clean up, especially Brownfield remediation, action by HUD specifically the Housing Choice Voucher program and Moving To Work.  And especially, if you look at the bottom of that chart, you'll see Rockford Airport.  Rockford does have a growing synergy as a center of excellence in aerospace engineering, especially the internal wiring of the aircraft of the future, which I think is critical to bringing that city back.  So with the Livable Communities Act, I've been supportive of those goals.  But can I just add one note of warning here. 

Lynn Sweet:  So my follow-up to this question is, I know when I asked you, since this will come up for a real vote, this act is not hypothetical, I heard you say you were supportive of its goals, Congressman.  So when it comes time, relatively soon, to vote a yes or a no, what would your vote be?

Mark Kirk:  Overwhelmingly, likely to be yes.  When a bill is introduced, it has the possibility of changing before it gets to the House floor.  And I generally have had the reputation of trying to read the legislation before making a decision on it.  And it's the final legislation that you have to actually look at.

Lynn Sweet: So I guess if we were scoring this, this is a lean yes?

Mark Kirk: Yes, a lean yes.


Lynn Sweet: Okay.  Now we're moving on to the Livable Communities Act, which I've explained is a potential legacy item for Senator Dodd.  Let me start this way, do you support it?

LeAlan Jones: I support Livable Communities.  But I have to think about Livable Communities far differently than the two gentlemen you heard prior to this.  (Chuckles) Reading the newspaper this morning and looking at the fact that 40 people were shot in the City of Chicago over the weekend is abhorrible.  … Livable Communities is not something that is political to me.  It is a passion.  I grew up in the Mid-South Plan for the regional planning committee.  And I saw how the project housing was torn down.  People were systematically moved out.  And the way in which it was done, I think, looking back on it, has only created more of the problem and not the solution.  So as much as I want to support these acts as well as these organizations, I always have to take in mind how is this going to play out for communities. 

Lynn Sweet: If you have a reservation about that, just briefly, do you have a better way to target federal money to be channeled other than this regional approach?

LeAlan Jones:  I think that one thing that I’m looking at in my platform is working with community banks, working with cooperatives and making sure that we put enough resource into the people's hands who needs it, as opposed to having middlemen.  And middlemen in my world is bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy doesn't solve the problem.  Bureaucracy exacerbates the problem.  And so therefore, I want a -- I'm not saying that I don't support Livable Communities or the act.  It's just that I have to be very, very diligent in the fact that these ideas that come from councils like this, a lot of times, the people who are to benefit from it are not the people at the table. 

As U.S. Senator, what strategies would you propose for financing the nation’s transportation infrastructure and reducing the demand for driving? What do you believe is the proper allocation of resources between roads, rail, bridges, transit, and other transportation modes?


Lynn Sweet: Now we're on transportation and infrastructure, and there's a lot here, which is why I want the time for this.  There is a proposal to raise the gas tax.  What do you think of that?  There have been, for a long time, proposals to raise the gas tax to fund all kinds of transportation highway needs.  Can you just quickly give your thought on yes or no, if it should be raised?

Alexi Giannoulias:     I don't think that that is a feasible plan going forward.  I do think what's more important here, Lynn, is that we have a comprehensive, forward-thinking infrastructure and transit policy, something that, quite frankly, has been lacking.  This goes beyond just repaving roads and laying train tracks.  This is about getting the economy moving again.  This is about reducing our reliance on foreign oil.  This is about working with transportation agencies and about ensuring that we remain globally competitive.

Lynn Sweet: Now one of the things that has a lot to do with transportation funding from Washington is this thorny question of earmarks.  I know you had provisions in your infrastructure plan, basically having another entity.  And some think tanks have gone this way of thinking about it to get rid of the political pressure of earmarks by, in a sense, farming it out.  If you had a chance to get money for an Illinois project through an earmark, why wouldn't you just do it?

Alexi Giannoulias:  Well, if we have a chance to bring resources back to the State of Illinois of course we will, but that's not the spirit of what my proposal for creating a national infrastructure fund is, and I'll get into that in a second.  The truth of the matter is, our national infrastructure is woefully obsolete.  Everyone in this room knows that.  Just recently the American Society of Engineers gave our national infrastructure the grade of a D, which is essentially a failing grade.  I had a chance, Lynn, to sit down with Bruce Katz a few months ago, who said something that really stuck with me.  He said that America essentially has a first-class economy with third-class infrastructure.  That is unacceptable.  You know, at the turn of the century, we invested heavily in rail and we saw a dramatic expansion of commerce.  Fifty years later, we invested heavily in a national highway system, and we saw a level of mobility of people and goods and services that we never could have envisioned.  In the 1990s, we invested heavily in information technology, and we saw a resurgence in American ingenuity and economic growth.  These sort of big picture projects, long-term, visionary, transformational projects are what we need to invest in.  You mentioned that over the weekend I announced my plan to create a national infrastructure fund.  The reason that it's important is we need to get the politics out of decision-making when it comes to long-term infrastructure projects.  My fund would be comprised of a board of the best and the brightest, not just politicians.  We're talking economists, engineers, urban planners, geologists, transportation experts that would grade the largest projects in the country, and then seed money and federal loan guarantees and grants would be provided on merit-based projects.  No more Bridges to Nowhere …

Lynn Sweet:  One of the questions had to do specifically with the allocation between multi-modal, you know, trains and busses.  We've got them all in Chicago: train, bus, freight, the whole schmear.  There is some thought, as regional planning goes, that the way federal government is organized doesn't just look at what an area needs, but has too much money siloed into these different modes, which doesn't lend itself towards the smartest thinking.  What are your thoughts on this proper allocation of resources?

Alexi Giannoulias: Well, again, that's why my proposal of the national infrastructure fund would go right to the heart of choosing the best projects that provide the best return on investment, that maximize efficiency and that have a long-term vision on maintenance and new projects. To answer your question, I do support efforts that create a more equitable balance between mass transit and roads.  The system, as we have it now, basically incentivises states and municipalities to reward them for getting people in their cars, which quite frankly flies in the face of common sense.  And that's something that, as we look at the next transportation reauthorization bill, it's something that we need to fix.

Lynn Sweet:  You may or may not know this but Wednesday in the White House there's a big meeting with Obama and the Senate leaders to talk about an energy bill.  But even some Democrats now are thinking that cap and trade is not the way to go.  I know you're a backer of cap and trade.  You all know you need 60 votes in the Senate to get something done.  What's your back up in order to fund some of these projects?

Alexi Giannoulias: Well, look, as I've said, I think the biggest challenge facing us as a nation and something, quite frankly, that is a stark difference between myself and my opponent, I think we need to put a price on carbon.  I think from not just a moral perspective do we need to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and take climate change very seriously, but from a job creation, from a global competitiveness, from a national security perspective, we have to invest in clean energy.  We have to have a sense of urgency. … But I think even more important than a cap on carbon is increasing the renewable energy standards, which will force all of us to start thinking a little more wisely about the type of energy we choose to use.


Lynn Sweet: … Now we're moving on to another question, and I know you served on the Transportation Committee, and you've got a lot of modal, modalities that you've dealt with through your years.  So the organization here is most interested in whether or not there needs to be this other concepts of how we allocate money, federal money, but one of the things that this also deals with is earmarks.  Big question before Congress, I know now you are not supportive of earmarks, you once were.  Common evolution for a lot of people.  If a project that was very Illinois-centric, good for this state, good for the region was out there, why wouldn't you use the power you have as Senator to bring it home?

Mark Kirk:  I don't support the current earmark system.  I would describe myself as a recovering earmarker.

Mark Kirk: Yeah.  And that's because, while we all, when we're first elected to Congress, come with all the vim and vigor to fight for our district and its local needs, in the end the earmark process became that you would get the projects that you supported but you had to back the very low to no quality projects of other members, that frankly was a waste of federal tax payer funds just when we're going into such debt and excess that poses a long-term danger to our government. … Well, let me just say that our central location for Illinois is the key to our economic success.  Illinois is the best state in the union to locate a business because we can so well service customers across North America.  But right now that key advantage, which helped build the highest incomes in the Midwest, is being squandered.  We, in Illinois, litigate too much.  Our taxes are too high.  And perhaps most crippling is the hidden corruption tax that Illinois has to pay that we estimate equals at least $500 million annually.  A good start to affording infrastructure upgrades is to grow the economy, and that means we need to fix our addiction to litigation, too many taxes and the pervasive Illinois culture of corruption.  I think that if we fix those three problems then we will recover our natural Illinois advantage at the center of the North American market.

Lynn Sweet: Now one of the things having to do with transportation that comes up is many funding issues.  One of them is the gas tax. It has not been increased in many years.  Do you or would you ever see yourself supporting an increase in the gas tax?

Mark Kirk: I do not.  Gas tax is one of the most regressive taxes on the working poor that you can put in.  Now my opponent, he has proposed creation of the so-called infrastructure bank.  And I think this idea has some merit.  But his funding source has been claimed by other presidential and leadership priorities.

Mark Kirk:  It's absolutely -- I think that we need to look at our needs.  And our needs of our suburban district and especially the Western Suburbs provide a critical link to the future of the Illinois economy. … When you look at -- just ... when you look at the growing areas of Illinois, overwhelmingly, Will, Lake, McHenry, Kane Counties are where much of the economy future of Illinois will lie.  And the critical thing that I have focused on and will, as a state leader, is suburb-to-suburb commuting.  This is up 53% as opposed to about a 10% increase from city-to-suburb commuting.  And this reaches back to the other point I made about the centrality of O'Hare and the future of our state economy, and linking those suburbs to the job engine of O'Hare, I think, is key to our future.

Lynn Sweet: On energy and big picture of how it relates, one of the issues is cap and trade.  You voted for it as a House member.  You said as a Senator you would not.  Right now, the Kerry/Lieberman Bill is coming up.  The White House is going to have a discussion on this tomorrow. Even some Democrats now are thinking that we maybe should go beyond cap and trade.  What is your alternative if you don't want to go that way now?

Mark Kirk: Right.  I think for the long-term future policy of Illinois, we have to set job growth and incomes as number one.  And so a tremendous set of new regulation and carbon taxes would be the wrong way to go. 

Mark Kirk: You bet.  I think right now consensus behind a cap and trade bill has collapsed in the Congress.  I do not think there is much future for the Senate legislation.  What would build bipartisan support is not a cap and trade bill, but would be an American energy independence bill.  An American energy independence bill, for example, would focus on building 50 new nuclear power plants in the United States, including, we would hope, a new unit in Clinton, Illinois, that would help reduce our dependence on foreign energy and would be a tremendous boost for the economy of this area.


Lynn Sweet: Now we're going to move on to our question about transportation.  I am interested in your views on how we should allocate resources and whether or not money should be siloed according to modality.  But Alexi Giannoulias had his idea for avoiding earmarking.  Congressman Kirk called himself "a recovered earmarker".  If you had a chance to bring in a project for this area, for this state through use of an earmark, would you do it?  And what's your view on it? 

LeAlan Jones:  I have to be very honest about the earmark. … I am a Chicagoan and I'm an Illinoisan. … The unemployment numbers is a reality for me when I live in a community where you have more unemployment, more joblessness and more hopelessness than anywhere, which is a stimulator of the violence that we see in our communities.  I would have to say right now politically that looking at these conditions and knowing that we don't see anything on the horizon in terms of private sector job creation where these people can be employed is that I would have to look very seriously at earmarks and making sure that those earmarks were appropriated within the right way to stimulate the growth that we need in this region and this state.

Lynn Sweet: Okay.  And your views on how we allocate between rail, bridges, mass transit, bikeways?

LeAlan Jones: I am for the high-speed rail system in Illinois.  I've heard the other two candidates talk about the fact that they don't want to impose a gas tax because it hurts working people.  Unfortunately, we're on both sides of this issue, and this is another one of those --

Lynn Sweet: Yeah, you'll tell me which side you're on?

LeAlan Jones: No, the fact is I'm going to have to nuance because it's not a right or wrong situation.  Right now, if we wanted to impose, which we should, we should be imposing a fuel tax in terms of using that money to generate the investment that we're going to need in high-speed rail and the other programs that we're going to need to create energy independence.  We should be doing that.  But the reason we can't do that is situations that happen like on the Red Line yesterday.  What happens when we begin to push people to using more efficient modes of transportation, but the infrastructure, the lack of investment in infrastructure has been such that if we did impose that tax we leave people on both sides of the fence without having a subsidy[?] of the things that we need done.

Lynn Sweet:  Okay.  So if I could try for clarity though.  If a gas tax were proposed, you would look at it or you're not open to it?

LeAlan Jones: I would have to seriously look at it --

Lynn Sweet: Yes.  Your answer is a yes?

LeAlan Jones: I didn't say yes.  I said we're going to have to seriously look at it. … The reason that I would have to seriously look at it is because we have to fund this massive infrastructure build out in terms of transportation and our economy.  Right now, because we have not made the investments over the long term before we got to this day, right now the RTA says we need $24 billion over the next 10 years to be able to keep our rail infrastructure in terms of CTA, Metra viable.  We have not done that.  So in essence, to impose a fuel tax and not have that infrastructure there would only create situations like we've experienced -where people have been on trains, those trains have stopped because they're inoperable, maybe should not have been there.  But because we've not made the upgrade in capital expenditures, we are at a boondoggle between both.

Lynn Sweet: Okay.  And may I ask you, since you're new on the political scene and I don't know where you stand on this.  I ask that your two rivals, cap and trade, you would be where?

LeAlan Jones:  Cap and trade, again, unfortunately, we are at a juncture where we shouldn't be right now with energy.  Right now, to impose cap and trade is going to put an undue burden on our industries, right now, who have been strained as the economy has not generated, it needs to be.  I don't want to impose a tax on an industry right now, especially with any American manufacturing sector that has lost a tremendous amount of jobs due to cheap labor.  I don't want to force them further into economic stalemates.  However, we do have to look forward.  And if we want to have the sustainable economy we want in 2040, we're going to have to make those hard decisions today.  And so would I be for cap and trade?  Again, it is one of those things that we cannot discuss here in a yes and no situation.  It's one of those things that is going to have to be politicked because it is for the future.  But if it came down to cap and trade again, I mean, we are at a recession.  We are at a recession that could go into a double-dip recession.  And I don't want to make policies that are going to exacerbate that any more than I need to.

As U.S. Senator, what will you do to ensure Illinois and the Chicago region take maximum advantage of its available Great Lakes water supply to best compete for job growth and new residents over the next 25 to 50 years? 


Lynn Sweet: The fourth question -- and I feel the clock is running down, I'm going to have a question to transition -- is going to be about Great Lakes and water.  But as you all know, one of the biggest crises our country is facing right now is the deep-water oil spill in the Gulf.  President Obama has proposed a six-month moratorium on deep water drilling.  Should there be a longer moratorium, and should it be extended to shallow water drilling?

Alexi Giannoulias: I am on the record, and I continue to be in favor of a six-month moratorium until we make sure that what took place in the Gulf never happens again.  I don't think that's out of line.  I think it's something we should look at.  But again, Lynn, this goes to the bigger picture.  If we are really serious about limiting our impact on the environment, if we're serious about creating the next generation of private sector green jobs, if we're serious about reducing our carbon footprint, if we're serious about all these things then we have to start moving towards a clean energy sector, and that's more important going forward.  But I am in favor of a six-month moratorium.

Lynn Sweet: The lake, itself, has a lot of issues going on it.  One of the questions, as you know, is to deal with the allocation to Great Lakes water supply.  Another issue with the lake that is something we didn't even think about years ago is the Asian carp invasion.  Since this is a big picture group, one of the big picture ideas is to re-reverse the Chicago River in order to deal with this and get it back to the way nature started the process.  What are your thoughts on reversing the Chicago River because it is a massive, it would be a massive federal works project if it were to be, and it would be a big project on the plate of a United States Senator?

Alexi Giannoulias: [E]very expert agrees that if we manage it wisely, Lake Michigan and local aquifers will be able to serve this region indefinitely.  I do want to make sure that we have federal policy that promotes better water-use planning and better local collaboration.  I’m going to give you two examples.  Number one, and this we'll get to when I answer your river question, is infrastructure.  Right now, we lose about 10 million gallons of water a day because of ruptured gas leaks and known, known -- not gas leaks, excuse me -- water leaks, known water leaks.  This goes back to investing in a national infrastructure fund not only from a conservation and from an environmental perspective, but from a cost perspective.  If we do the right thing, if we invest in maintaining our infrastructure and bringing it up to speed so our infrastructure is not obsolete, it will be a short-term stimulus for the region.  And long term, we will save hundreds of millions of dollars because we will be able to issue water permits, and it's a smarter way to do business.

Number two, the second example, is that right now federal laws don't do a good job balancing water quality with water quantity.  Right now, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Water Drinking Act focus almost entirely on the quality of our water.  And that's an important goal, but it will all be for naught if we deplete our water sources.  We need to incorporate mechanisms that help reduce consumption.  Things like green infrastructure, water re-use, conservation and a better use of storm water. 

To answer your river question, we lose about 500 million gallons of purified water because of the way that the river flows away from Lake Michigan.  I do think going forward long term, it's smart to try and redirect that water -- clean it up first and redirect it into Lake Michigan. 

Lynn Sweet:  So you would like to reverse, as a long-term proposition, to reverse the Chicago River?

Alexi Giannoulias: Ultimately, yes.

Lynn Sweet:  What is, in your policy thinking, is the role of government in getting people to reduce energy consumption, which has an impact, in a sense, on all four questions that you've been talking about today?

Alexi Giannoulias: Thank you, Lynn, it's a perfect question.  And this talks, this encompasses everything we've talked about here today.  Smarter, long-term infrastructure.  Sustainable communities.  Federal agencies working together.  Having a vision for where we want to be in 20, 30, 40 years from a land use perspective, from an environmental perspective.  Making sure that we encourage the private sector to get involved.  That federal government works with MPOs to create things like an affordability index study, mapping tools, research and evaluations to help businesses and developers and large employers enthused about coming to this region.  Smarter about the way we create housing opportunities, affordable housing. And how we help large employers decide where to start their business, expand their business.  And mass transit has an incredibly important role, which is why I'm so proud to talk about my national infrastructure fund, which has, again, a long-term perspective on dealing with these issues where we do it the right way.  We take politics out of it. 


Lynn Sweet: We're now going to move on to water and our wonderful lake, just very close here.  It was stunning yesterday when I came in the city.  It's just stunning.  But we know we have the deep-water well spill in the Gulf.  And just quickly, if you could, President Obama has a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling, should we have it?  Should it be longer?  And what about a moratorium on shallow-water drilling?

Mark Kirk:  I think the President's decision on a six-month moratorium is prudent.  It gives us time to develop safety equipment and teams to deploy that so that if ever such a problem arises again, you can quickly cap the problem with tested equipment.

Lynn Sweet:  Now our lake question has a lot going for dealing with making sure that we have a fresh water supply and that there's enough water for everybody in the future.  What are your thoughts on one of the proposals out there that will have an impact on lake levels and on Asian carp to reverse the flow of the Chicago River, which is a very big, long-term project.

Mark Kirk: Right.  I think city mothers and fathers of Chicagoland made the right decision when they reversed the flow of the Chicago River.  We recall the stories of pollution in the lake right next to our water intakes, which prompted that decision.  That was a wise decision and we should not reverse the flow of the Chicago River so that it dumps into the source of our fresh water drinking supply.  In my view, with regard to Asian carp, this is an issue that has occupied a great deal of attention in the House of Representatives.  One of the problems that I've seen is with the federal government's policy regarding the electric barrier.  The electric barrier that zaps Asian carp and eggs has been kept at a voltage that is too low.  And I understand some of the concerns with the boating and shipping communities on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, but a number of people in Washington make the decision that we should keep the voltage low because they're worried that a boater might, as they transited the electric barrier, might reach over and touch the wall.  That clearly shows that you are not a citizen of Chicagoland because we have grown up taking the "L" and understanding just how dangerous the third rail is. And the rule in Chicagoland is "Don't touch that under any circumstance."  And I think the boaters that use the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal would just be told, "This is just like the third rail on the "L"."  We should dramatically increase the voltage in the barriers.  And then Congress has been, another part of the problem that it has provided unsteady funding to that electric barrier.  That electric barrier is one of the critical defenses to the ecologically of the Great Lakes, and funding should have not been unsteady.  It should have been one of the highest priorities of the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard.

Lynn Sweet: Well, in closing, and we have just a little bit of time left, who should decide?  I mean, there is a big demand for the Chicago-area lock closure by those outside of Illinois.  It's gone to the Supreme Court.  How do we get to an answer on it that is fair to this region and fair to the people who we share the lake with?

Mark Kirk: I think in the end, it's a federal responsibility because it concerns multiple states and the economies of an entire region.  I’m an American.  Americans culturally like to innovate their way out of problems, which is why I like the electric barrier.  … For me, in the end, my preference is to keep the Canal open so that our economy is not disadvantages, to dramatically increase the voltage of the barriers and use some of the other methods that Cameron [Davis, President Obama’s Great Lakes czar] has been using to make sure that this danger does not emerge. 


Lynn Sweet: As we transition into our lake question, I want to ask you what I've asked the others, dealing with deep-oil drilling in the wake of the BP oil catastrophe on the coast.  President Obama has proposed a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling.  Should we have it?  Should it be longer?  And what about a moratorium on shallow-water drilling?

LeAlan Jones:  Energy independence is the only way that we're going to get ourselves out of this problem.  The more that we import foreign oil, the more we allow ourselves to be in situations that really, that have us infringing on other people's sovereignty.  When it comes to oil drilling offshore, I have had a very vociferous debate with people in my party because if we want to get to this green economy, there is still existing -- we are a very heavily reliant society on oil.  And that is not going to change over night.  I believe that offshore -- I believe in the moratorium, right now, that the President has enacted in order to study what allowed this ecological catastrophe to happen. 

Lynn Sweet:  Moving now to our lake question: You know, there are issues dealing with water supply, Illinois' allocation that's in the question about making sure it's available in the long term.  I'd like you to address that.  But before you go there, and this will be our last question, could you tell me your thoughts on reversing the Chicago River, which is something now under consideration by very long-range planners. 

LeAlan Jones: I just thought about this when the Congressman mentioned the fact that he wants to build out nuclear power plants.  Well, where are you going to put these nuclear power plants except next to places where you have water to make sure that the reactors can stay cool?  Well, reversing the Chicago River and knowing that if that were proposed that they would probably be at sites adjacent to the Chicago River, we would put ourselves in jeopardy of potentially contaminating one-fifth of the world’s fresh water resource.  I would have to seriously look at the issue in terms of what is the feasibility?  Are there more contaminants inland that can go outland, in terms of if we did do that?  And that's one thing that has to be looked at.  And I think unfortunately, it's not one of those points that a yes or no answer can … satisfy your inquiry.

Lynn Sweet: And what about the bigger picture, as we close, of how we can use our Lake Michigan water and the Great Lakes to help sustain the region?

LeAlan Jones: Funny thing, campaign manager pointed out, he said, "Make sure when you get up there, you mention the fact of how many dishes we have."  We have about three or four forks.  We have plates, three or four plates.  I wonder how much water we're going to need to clean that up if we just, you know, broke down and just had a more simple display on our tables?  I think that in the long term, we have to look at water efficiency.  We have to look at creating communities and homes that can recycle water in terms of their daily usage.  I'm one of those people that probably turns on the shower before.  I don't let it run.  We need to be more efficient in how we manage this system because Lake Michigan is probably our greatest commodity.  We have one-fifth of the world's fresh water reserve.  I want to be able to manage it no differently than if I were OPEC.


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