Editorial: On climate change, Illinois needs to keep up the pressure

  • Representatives from the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition rally outside the state Capitol in May to urge action on climate-related legislation.

    Representatives from the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition rally outside the state Capitol in May to urge action on climate-related legislation. Capitol News Illinois photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 9/19/2019 8:17 AM
Editor's note: Fourth in a series.

The upcoming veto session of the state legislature needs to be a watershed six days for Illinois, and by extension, Planet Earth.

The efforts by Washington to roll back environmental protections and emission controls are ramping up. President Donald Trump's decision this week to vacate California's right to set more stringent emissions standards is yet another alarm bell for states like Illinois that have been working independently to move away from fossil fuels.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In the past few years, Illinois has had successes. In 2018 we had the third-highest number of new jobs in the solar industry of any state. Meanwhile, the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act put Illinois on the road to having 25% of our state's energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.

Those are good steps toward Illinois being a leader in clean and renewable energy, but now the legislature has an even more ambitious bill on the table, the Clean Energy Jobs Act. It calls for Illinois to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, which would make us the first mainland U.S. state to do so; and sets an interim target of 100% carbon-free electricity in 2030.

These are big steps for a state that currently gets most of its electricity from nuclear power. And while the goal is admirable -- more than admirable -- we have questions. Like, what is the future of Illinois's nuclear plants in the final equation? How will the jobs act be funded (the bill does call for re-evaluating the rate caps utilities can charge customers for investing in energy efficiency)? What will the effect be on consumers in both the short and long run?

The ambitious 100% goal, as one advocate said, will be "messy" to achieve. But this is why the legislature needs to talk about it this fall, keeping in mind that while they are talking, the federal government is continuing to push the country toward heavier reliance on fossil fuels.

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In the absence of coherent federal leadership on one of the most critical issues of modern times, it falls to Illinois and other states to step up. Talking about the Clean Energy Jobs Act and a companion piece of legislation, the Path to 100 Act, is important for Illinois.

Climate change is already upon us. Ask Illinois farmers, whose fields were so flooded last spring that many crops went unplanted. Ask victims afflicted by increasingly powerful storms; or of the wildfires driven by drought. Look at the rising levels of Lake Michigan.

Some states have their heads in the sand; thankfully, Illinois is not among them. This state has shown a willingness to lead on clean and renewable energy. We can't stop now.

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