Category Archives: Illinois’ Energy Future

The Dawn of a Bold New Era in Illinois?

D6JqNgPWAAMPV1FIllinois May Be Emerging As One of America’s Environmental Leadership States. The seemingly sudden passage of several mega-measures by the Illinois General Assembly in the final days of the spring legislative session undoubtedly surprised many Illinoisans who learned that, over the first weekend of summer, the legislature legalized recreational cannabis use, expanded gaming, launched a long overdue infrastructure program, protected access to reproductive health care, and passed a balanced budget for a change.

A bit overshadowed by those headlines are some significant advances toward environmental protection, including action on climate change, clean water, toxic chemicals, and more.  These wins suggest that Illinois may be emerging as one of America’s environmental leadership states, at a time when state innovation has never been more critical given the active deconstruction of our national environmental protection framework at the hands of the Trump administration and their polluter allies. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of 2019.

A Ban On Toxic BPA In Store and Bank Receipts

receipt-cropIllinois will join the European Union in banning BPA (bisphenol A) from customer receipts beginning in January.  BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that has been used as a coating on the shiny, thermal paper used in many receipt, where it poses a risk to both workers and customers. Two freshman lawmakers, State Representative Karina Villa (D-West Chicago), and State Senator Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights) teamed up to move the ban to Gov. Pritzker’s desk.

New Training Opportunities for Clean Water Jobs

image2Illinois needs significant investments to address drinking and surface water quality concerns, and communities of color and other disadvantaged populations are more likely to suffer from poor water quality.  These Illinoisans will now have better access to the jobs created in solving these problems thanks to the Clean Water Workforce Pipeline program created under legislation passed by State Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), and new State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), which will support community organizations in placing those most in need of quality jobs in apprenticeship programs to prepare for water infrastructure jobs.

Investing in Environmental Infrastructure

The long overdue capital investment plan includes over $1 billion in environmental investments, including over $300 million in clean water infrastructure, transportation electrification projects, funds to help the Pritzker administration lead by example with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for state facilities, and funds for Illinois DNR to acquire natural areas through the Open Land Trust program.  In most cases, these funding levels are short of the overall multiyear need, but they are critical downpayments on long term investments and will help the new administration begin to build an environmental and conservation legacy after years of neglect of these priorities.

Making Polluters Pay for Coal Ash Cleanup

59759287_2565502050143782_1978614639251947520_nCommunity members fed up with living near giant piles of toxic coal ash seeping into groundwater teamed up with State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) and State Representative Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) to pass SB 9, which will lead to rules requiring these health threats to be cleaned up, at the expense of the coal companies who created them.

Repealing the Prohibition on Climate Action

In 1998, the coal industry pushed through a broad prohibition against Illinois EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  As a result, Illinois has been benched on the sidelines while other states adopted innovative emissions reduction programs that spurred job growth in clean energy and consumer savings from energy efficiency.  At the time, the prohibition passed over the strong objections of environmental champions, but coal carried the day. This year’s repeal is a sign of how things have changed in 2019, with the urgency of the climate crisis prevailing over objections from coal.  Governor Pritzker’s early, strong action to commit Illinois to the Paris Climate Agreement’s emissions reduction targets, and a 100% clean energy goal for the state, were important in setting this new direction.

Broad Support for 100% Clean Energy

With consideration of comprehensive energy policy slated for consideration this fall, a wide variety of proposals have been introduced, but none saw floor debate in either the full House or Senate.  However, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) introduced by State Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) and State Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) has attracted by far the most support from lawmakers, with cosponsors approaching majorities in each chamber, while competing proposals from coal companies drew broad opposition. We’re excited to continue working with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition to build support for CEJA’s 100% clean energy goal, with a focus on economic benefits for disadvantaged communities and a just transition for workers and communities dependent on 20th century technologies, over the summer and into the fall veto session.

Why is Illinois seemingly headed in a new direction of environmental leadership?  Three key elements are people, partnerships, and politics.

People are Connecting To the Capitol

Illinoisans are waking up to the role that state and local action can, and must, play in moving forward on the issues they care about, even as the Trump administration moves backward or ignores their priorities.

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Sierra Club had strong participation from members in its Volunteer Lobby Team program, in which members commit to learning the details of priority environmental issues and visiting with their local State Representative or State Senator once each Spring to explain the issues and ask for their support.  This Spring Sierra Club volunteers held over 50 district office visits, and earned support for a wide range of issues from legislators across the political spectrum.  These in-district conversations with volunteers, not paid lobbyists, really help key priorities stand out during a very busy spring.

Partnerships Are Key

d2hx2rvx0aminvn.jpgNew alliances are key to both building a bigger, more diverse environmental movement, but also in advancing a bold progressive agenda.  This spring, Sierra Club teamed up with labor unions representing workers in the water sector and social justice advocates to write and pass the Clean Water Workforce Pipeline Act, and with the United Food and Commercial Workers to ban the BPA receipts that are a health concern for their members as well as an unnecessary toxin. We’re also proud founding members of Forward Illinois, a new alliance of statewide progressive organizations focused on supporting each other in our efforts to enact nation-leading policies that make Illinois healthier, cleaner, more prosperous, and more equitable. We’re thrilled at the big wins for the broader progressive agenda and ready to build on these partnerships for bigger wins in the future.

Politics – Elections Have Consequences

The progress of 2019 is a direct outcome of the 2018 elections. Governor J.B. Pritzker proposed and enacted a big and bold legislative agenda, all while building a team on the fly and staffing up state agencies.  This year’s freshman class of legislators includes an outstanding group of women who not only took the lead in sponsoring bold ideas, but made it clear from the start that they were breaking the mold of “target” legislators from swing districts, who are normally coached to avoid tough votes that might be fodder for campaign attacks.  The Class of 2019 is led by women who ran not to play it safe but to be bold, and resist the daily outrages coming from the Trump administration with clear moves in the opposite direction. Sierra Club mounted its largest volunteer and voter contact election campaign ever in 2018 to elect just these types of new leaders, and we can’t wait to see what we can do together next.

Let’s hope this spring’s big steps forward are the first on a long journey toward the future we want for all in Illinois.  The challenges we face together call for nothing less.

Jack Darin is the Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

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Sierra Club Statement on Introduction of the Clean Energy Jobs Act

Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition introduces new legislation to put Illinois on track to achieve 100% clean energy, expand workforce development, and responsibly transition away from fossil fuels

In response, Jack Darin, Director of Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, released the following statement:

“The introduction of the Clean Energy Jobs Act SB2132 (CASTRO) / HB3624 (WILLIAMS) today marks another historic moment for Illinois to lead the response to federal inaction on climate change. This bill was shaped by thousands of Illinois residents who participated in the Clean Jobs Coalition’s “Listen, Lead, Share” campaign, which hosted dozens of community listening sessions across the state in 2018. Sierra Club volunteers across the state worked with coalition partners to convene these sessions, and we heard loud and clear that Illinois is ready for a 100% clean energy future that includes everyone and lifts up those that need it most.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act sets our state on a track to reduce dangerous pollution from fossil fuels, create more quality careers in every corner of the state, and power our state with a strong and equitable 100% clean energy economy by 2050. Sierra Club is proud to join with our partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and build on the immense success of the Future Energy Jobs Act which is already driving new job creation and training programs in disadvantaged communities and new clean energy investments particularly in downstate Illinois.”

Governor Pritzker Issues Executive Order Signing Illinois onto the U.S. Climate Alliance

Springfield, January 23, 2019 – This morning Governor JB Pritzker signed an executive order making Illinois the 18th state to join the U.S. Climate Alliance.

In response, Jack Darin, Director of Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, released the following statement:

“By joining the US Climate Alliance as one of his first acts in office, Governor Pritzker is showing the world that, even though Donald Trump wants out of the clean energy economy, Illinois is all in. We can and must reach these climate goals, and we know we need to do so in a way that puts our workers and disadvantaged communities first. We know Governor Pritzker shares these values and can unite Illinois in planning for the 100% clean energy future we all want, and that starts today.”

“Illinois Must Step Up” In the Wake of Trump’s Unlawful Dirty Power Plan

As Trump and Wheeler Gut Clean Air Safeguards to Appease Coal, Will Rauner Respond?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, former coal lobbyist and acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler released an unlawfully weak carbon pollution policy that would gut the Clean Power Plan’s life-saving standards and do next to nothing to fight the climate crisis, continuing the agenda of disgraced former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Since the Clean Power Plan was proposed in 2015, hundreds of businesses and organizations and tens of thousands of Illinoisans have asked Governor Rauner to commit to a carbon reduction plan, but Rauner has never responded.  Earlier this month, Rauner keynoted a rally with coal CEOs where he praised the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back clean air standards and said “I think we’ve got a friend now in the White House.”

In response, Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Sierra Club, released the following statement:  

“Donald Trump’s decision to opt out of reducing carbon pollution is unlawful, immoral, and threatens to opt America out of the global clean energy economy.  Illinois must step up to object to this plan, and set bold clean energy and climate goals to protect our health and bring clean energy jobs to our communities.  Instead of rallying with coal barons to cheer on Trump’s rollbacks, Bruce Rauner should listen to the Illinois residents, businesses, and lawmakers urging him to make it clear that clean energy is Illinois’ future.”

No to Fossil Fuel Bailouts, Yes to Clean Energy!

No to Fossil Fuel Bailouts: Dynegy, the Texas-based corporation that owns the majority of the aging coal plants in Central and Southern Illinois, is working behind closed doors with Rauner’s administration to rewrite State air pollution rules to allow them to double the amount of dangerous pollution they can spew into our air. Tell state regulators to protect our air from corporate greed! Learn more and submit a comment to state regulators here.  

Yes to Clean Energy: This year, the Illinois Chapter will be working with volunteer leaders around the state to help push local goals of 100% clean energy for municipalities. Are you interested in launching or participating in a campaign in your city or town to build more clean energy and set bold goals for the future? If so, let us know, and fill out our survey about upcoming trainings.

How Data Transparency Could Drive Energy and Cost Savings

*UPDATE*

Thank you to everyone who took action in encouraging the update of the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.  On November 21, the Chicago City Council approved the update! For more information, consult the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Homepage and a list of frequently asked questions.

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Approximately 50% of Illinois’ carbon pollution is from electricity generation by coal, nuclear, and natural gas plants. These aging plants are polluting our air and water at the cost of our health and climate. Fortunately, Illinois continues to develop its clean energy economy that will build new opportunities, reclaim polluted land, and create thousands of jobs.

This vision for the state reached a historic milestone when the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) was passed in Illinois in December 2016 and went into effect on June 1, 2017. Check out the footer of this post for more information about FEJA and the benefits it can bring to Illinois.*

Along with Illinois’ statewide clean energy plan, the City of Chicago is establishing itself as a clean energy leader.  The City remains committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and is 40% of the way to achieving its 2025 goal of a 26-28% greenhouse gas emission reduction. On April 9, 2017, Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago announced that the City’s municipal buildings will be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2025.

In October 2017, Mayor Emanuel proposed an update to the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance, which has been used to evaluate and improve energy efficiency in buildings across the city since 2014. The proposal strengthens the original Ordinance by making buildings’ energy usage easier to understand and more accessible to the public. The update would specifically apply to buildings 50, 000 square feet or more, which account for fewer than 1% of the buildings in the city. Despite the small quantity, these buildings represented 22% of energy use by all buildings when the Ordinance was passed.

The original Ordinance requires that building owners and managers annually measure and report their building’s energy use. Based on various criteria such as property size and number of occupants the building is given an ENERGY STAR score on a scale from 1 to 100. The Ordinance update will express the ENERGY STAR as a 4-star rating (see mock image below) that will be prominently displayed in the building and made available at the time of sale or lease.

energy-star

The new 4-star rating system is an easy way to express the building’s energy efficiency.

The proposed addition to the Energy Benchmarking Ordinance will require no additional measuring or reporting by property owners or managers. Furthermore, there is not an obligation to make improvements based on a building’s score. The new strategies, however, enable current and prospective owners, residents or businesses to make informed decisions about operating costs related to energy in the building. The system may encourage more consideration of the many cost-saving energy efficiency programs available in Illinois. Incentive and rebate programs are available through major utility companies like ComEd and People’s Gas so that energy improvements can be made at little to no cost. The Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act also will increase funding for these programs so that residents across the state can benefit from these improvements. psp take action button2

Chicago residents, contact your alderman to show your support of the Updated Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance which will empower the public to make more informed choices about their energy usage.

Creating more transparency and accessibility to energy use data is an important step in cutting energy costs and fossil fuel pollution. By supporting the new Updated Energy Benchmarking Ordinance, we can ensure that building managers, owners, businesses, and residents have a clearer understanding of how their energy dollars are used. Collectively, we can make Illinois a national leader in sustainability and energy conservation efforts.

 

—————————————————————————————————————————————–*FEJA is the result of years of grassroots organizing driven by thousands of community members with the support of advocacy partners and clean energy companies.

Key Benefits of FEJA

  • Invests $5 billion in energy efficiency programs to reduce families’ electricity bills
  • Allocates $180-220 million a year towards the purchase of energy produced by renewable sources
  • Directs $189 million, plus $10 million annually, to incentivize solar development and fund job training programs, including those for economically disadvantaged communities in every part of the state
  • Reduces air pollution by diminishing our reliance on fossil fuels by an estimate of 32 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030

 

Illinois Fracking Permit Withdrawn Statement of Jack Darin, Director, Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

Woolsey Operating Company, LLC has withdrawn its fracking permit and associated application for a wastewater injection well in White County Illinois. The permit was the first horizontal fracking permit to be issued since the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act was enacted in 2013, and recently approved over the objections of area residents and thousands of Illinoisans. Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, had this reaction:

“This decision comes as a relief to residents in White County and across the state who objected to the permit granted by the Rauner Administration. However, the relief is only temporary until Illinois tells the oil and gas industry that dangerous fracking is not welcome here. We must not let the mounting incidences of water contamination, air pollution and increased seismic activity associated with horizontal fracking to happen here in Illinois. Illinois should prioritize clean energy and the thousands of jobs it promises, rather than sacrificing our water to bet on the ups and downs of fossil markets.”