Kurt Erickson, The Southern Illinoisan
August 3, 2015
SPRINGFIELD — New federal rules designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have rekindled a major political fight in Illinois.
Against the backdrop of a lingering threat by Exelon Corp. to shutter its nuclear power plants in the Quad-Cities and Clinton, environmental groups used a White House announcement Monday on the new regulations to renew a call for action on their plan to boost the use of wind turbines and solar farms.
And, despite the dire effects the new rules could have on Illinois coal production, coal-country lawmakers say they have a plan in the works designed to boost the use of Illinois coal by in-state power plants.
The trio of competing energy proposals had been under serious discussion during the Illinois Legislature’s spring session. But, the subject of power plants and clean energy has taken a backseat in recent months to the state’s ongoing budget impasse.
Under the plan unveiled Monday in the nation’s capital, Illinois would have to join other states in cutting power plant emissions by reducing coal use, increasing the use of pollution control devices and boosting energy efficiency.
“We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged,” the White House said in a statement.
The plan also won support from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.
“When it comes to cleaner power plants and cleaner ways of providing electricity to consumers across the country, we have the technology, we have the science, and now we need the political will,” Durbin said in a statement.
Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, of Taylorville, said the rules are an example of why he supports a proposed law that would require congressional approval of major changes in regulations.
“I wish I could say I was surprised by these new regulations but time and time again we’ve seen this president regulate without regard for American workers or rising energy costs for millions of families,” Davis said in a prepared statement.
Environmental and consumers groups said Monday they already have a plan in the works for Illinois. In February, they unveiled legislation that would bring more wind turbines and solar power installations to Illinois, saving customers $1.6 billion by 2030.
“The Illinois Clean Jobs bill offers our state the best opportunity to comply with the EPA standard, while also showing that a better environment and a better economy go hand in hand,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council.
Exelon, which owns nuclear power plants in Illinois, is pushing its own proposal that would hike rates on all Illinois energy users in order to keep its facilities open.
The company now says it needs a decision by September in order to stop them from closing the Quad-Cities plant in Cordova.
Lawmakers representing Illinois coal regions say their proposal, which is still being drafted, would boost the use of the state’s own coal supply.
Currently, much of the coal mined in Illinois is shipped out of state and overseas, while Illinois power plants use coal mined in Wyoming’s Powder River basin.
State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, wants to change that in order to provide a lift the state’s mining industry.
“We’re going to be relying on coal for the foreseeable future. So long as we are we need to be burning Illinois coal,” Bradley said.
Illinois Coal Association executive director Phil Gonet said coal industry officials support Bradley’s efforts.
“I’m hopeful he can come up with something. We support the concept,” Gonet said.
But, he said the coal industry in Illinois still faces a tough road.
He said the new federal rules have “an emphasis on putting coal out of business.”
“In the big picture, this still isn’t good,” Gonet said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner also will play a role in implementing the new rules. His office said the regulations are under review Monday.
For now, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is claiming it has the upper hand on getting legislation through the General Assembly.
In the House, the proposal has bipartisan support from 58 co-sponsors. In the Senate, 26 of 59 members have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation. Only a handful of those co-sponsors are from south of Interstate 80.