Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday accused Attorney General Lisa Madigan of doing her father’s bidding by painting him as the villain in the continuing controversy over the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook.
The company raised the ire of citizens in its neighborhood after environmental testing revealed the release of potentially hazardous levels of ethelyne oxide (EtO), a chemical used for the sterilization of medical instruments which has been identified as a dangerous carcinogen.
The United States EPA told the company last December, that its emissions of EtO had been calculated at 1,000 parts per million, far exceeding the upper limit of cancer risk acceptability. The Illinois EPA was copied on that letter, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which shares responsibility for environmental enforcement, said they had not been given adequate information on the Sterigenics issue.
Indeed, spokesman Eileen Boyce told the Daily Herald on Friday that the Rauner administration “hid information on the increased risks from the Sterigenics plant for over eight months. We then had to fight with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to get access to needed information.”
During a morning bus tour in the final week of his campaign for re-election, Rauner accused the attorney general of playing politics with a hot-button environmental issue.
“This is being politicized for the gain of the Madigan clan,” Rauner told NBC 5. “It’s also been falsely said that somehow the governor wants to protect the company because the governor has an economic interest. I have no economic interest whatsoever in that business.”
In short, Rauner accused the attorney general of doing the bidding of her powerful father- Rauner’s chief political foe in Springfield.
“That’s one of the things I’ve learned the hard way- she absolutely is,” he said. “We have one of the most corrupt states in America, led by her father. She has never led an investigation of corruption, conflict of interest, or unethical behavior of her dad or any of his administration. How is this right? She’s there protecting her father, not protecting the taxpayers."
Madigan's chief of staff, Ann Spillane, called the comments "another shameless attempt by the governor to shift blame."
"His environmental protection agency did nothing when they were alerted to the serious public health risk at the Sterigenics site in December 2017," Spillane said in a statement. "Since then, his administration has publicly pledged they are working with our office, but refused to provide documents and key information that could help us."
Community group "Stop Sterigenics," formed as the controversy surrounding the plant developed, said the governor's comments turn the crisis "into a political dig."
"While Gov. Rauner is playing politics and fighting with the Madigans, the children and residents around Sterigenics are breathing in toxic, cancer-causing air 24 hours a day, seven days a week," the group said. "We remain the highest cancer risk area in the entire state due to Sterigenics."
Meanwhile, the polls have not been kind to the governor as he seeks his second term. Earlier this month, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute released a survey which showed Pritzker with a 22 point lead.
“I wasn’t leading in the polls four years ago---I’m not really sure polls mean that much,” Rauner laughed. “The only poll that matters is the one on election day.”
As the autumn colors of the western suburbs drifted past the windows of his campaign bus, the governor warned his faithful that the outcome of the election could determine the course of the state for a generation.
“This will determine whether Mike Madigan’s political machine dominates our state for years to come,” he said. “We’ve got to stand together---all of us.”
Indeed, there have been times during this campaign it was difficult to discern exactly who Rauner’s real opponent was. Campaign commercials and his declarations on the stump have heavily featured his nemesis in the House---the Speaker who has reigned for more than three decades.
“The fundamental fact is he’s is the most corrosive, corrupt politician in America today,” the governor said. “Pritzker has funded him, Pritzker is loyal to him. Pritzker uses his law firm, and Pritzker is part of that culture of corruption.”
The two do have one thing in common: massive fortunes. Rauner is a multi-millionaire many times over. Pritzker is believed to be a billionaire as a member of one of the region’s most fortunate families.
Asked how either could truly be in touch with the needs of everyday Illinoisans, Rauner is quick to note that he grew up in modest means, and had earned every penny he had today.
“Pritzker and I are night and day different,” he said. “He’s never worked a day in his life---he never had a real job!”