Program aims to make clean-air incentives succeed

 
By Kelly Nichols
Guest columnist
Updated 8/16/2016 10:15 AM
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  • Kelly Nichols

    Kelly Nichols

As the Illinois Field Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, an organization that advocates for children's health in regards to air pollution and climate change, and a mother of 4-year-old twins here in Lake County. I worry about the future not just my children, but all children, especially the ones most impacted by extreme pollution and air quality.

That's why I went to the Federal EPA Hearing on the Clean Energy Incentive Program in downtown Chicago earlier this month.

The CEIP can help make a change for the better in cleaning up our air and protecting children's health, especially in Illinois.

Our organization is strongly in support of America's Clean Power Plan, and it's important through programs like the CEIP that we still do the work that needs to be done in individual states to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. This program is an important way for states to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency and to let those benefits sit squarely in communities that need it most.

For us in Lake County, one of those communities is Waukegan. This program could incentivize a just transition from the coal-fired power plant there.

In both rural and urban environments, low-income neighborhoods bear the brunt of pollution of all kinds. Our organization has members in every community in Illinois. It's critical for those members, and our organizational allies in the environmental justice communities throughout Illinois and the rest of the United States to have cleaner air, affordable, renewable energy and investments in their communities.

The final CEIP rule should allow at least 50 percent of CEIP credits to go to low-income clean energy projects, and the households that face the greatest boundaries to investments in renewable energy be targeted as the recipients of the project benefits.

It's also critical that the EPA have a robust stakeholder process designed to really listen to folks and organizations who live and work in low-income communities, to make sure that the definition of a low-income community is inclusive enough to fit the needs of our state and narrow enough to target communities that need these benefits, projects, and incentives the most.

We don't want big polluters, like the coal-fired power plant in Waukegan, sitting there, belching out their poisons, allowed to slide under the radar because they have done fixes that merely allow them credit under the CEIP. Not only are they increasing greenhouse gases and other types of pollution, but they are also increasing asthma rates and the rates of cardiovascular illness and other lung illnesses.

We want these big polluters to be accountable, and we want the EPA to remember that when we fix especially vulnerable communities, the benefits extend to every community.

To finally have more appropriate investment in low-income communities to improve energy generation, efficiency and delivery in a way that's beneficial both for the community and for the planet is part of how we can continue to work on the process of carbon emission reduction, despite our pause with the CPP. That investment makes the air cleaner, makes the communities healthier and provides benefits for everyone who breathes and wants to grow up on a habitable planet.

In Illinois, incentivizing investments brings much-needed jobs to the state, helping families stay in communities like Waukegan that they have grown to love and are proud to live in, instead of having to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

We appreciate the EPA continuing the conversation with critical environmental stakeholder groups here in Illinois, and encourage much more engagement as this program moves forward in this process. When we care about and work to help create cleaner air and a cleaner planet, everyone benefits.

We look forward to having the CEIP as a tool to create a better world -- and a better environment throughout the suburbs.

Kelly Nichols is Illinois Field Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, an organization that advocates for children's health related to air pollution and climate change.

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