Legislation critical to our state drinking water is being stalled in Springfield by labor bosses. Senate Bill 254 provides Department of Public Health oversight of the installation of closed-loop wells, an important element of geothermal heating and cooling systems. Geothermal systems have proven to be highly energy efficient and new installations or retro fits are being installed all across our state, in schools, commercial facilities, government buildings and homes. Geothermal heating and cooling systems are one of the key components for a greener future and are providing jobs in an otherwise slow economy.

Current Illinois law lacks the oversight as to where closed-loop wells are being located, that their location meets industry standards and applicable construction codes, and that the installation is completed properly to avoid contaminating our state drinking water sources.

To address these concerns, The Illinois Association of Groundwater Professionals has asked for the passage of SB 254, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link and Rep. Mike Tryon. SB 254 requires certification and registration of individuals boring into the ground to install the closed-loop well, ensures compliance with grouting standards and industry construction codes. It also provides for a state permit so that a record of the physical location is available for later repairs or the installation of a water well, septic system or any other underground construction where knowledge of existing structures is necessary.

SB 254, after passing the Senate earlier this year 59-0, has been held in the House Executive Committee at the request of the pipe fitters unions. The bill cannot even get a hearing in the House because of the pipe fitters’ lobbying.

IAGP has met numerous times with representatives of interest groups that have raised concerns about SB 254. IAGP has met specifically with representatives of the pipe fitters on two occasions to discuss components of the bill to address their issues. Yet to date, the pipe fitters continue to hold up the bill without providing IAGP any specific reason why the legislation should not be enacted into law. The bill does not limit or restrict the pipe fitters or any other related trade union from performing components of the work related to their expertise. IAGP has been very clear in its intent that SB 254’s oversight is limited to the drilling and grouting of the closed-loop well and will not affect the HVAC side of the geothermal system.

We are concerned that the pipe fitters are jeopardizing the safe drinking water of many Illinoisans because of their misperception that SB 254 may unsettle the jurisdiction of the work that their trade members engage in with a geothermal heating and cooling system. SB 254 only addresses the drilling and grouting of closed-loop wells, will protect our state’s groundwater and will help a growing industry in our state to be stronger.

We are asking that the pipe fitters help us enact SB 254 into law and protect Illinois groundwater and the citizens that use it for drinking water.

Sue Bohenstengel is a former Oak Park resident and executive director of the Illinois Association of Groundwater Professionals.

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