Kai Elz, Chicago Defender
June 4, 2015
Chicago high schoolers held a climate action rally at the Thompson Center late Thursday afternoon to show their support for the Illinois Clean Jobs bill. The pending legislation is designed to strengthen statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Maria Sanchez, a Northside College Prep junior, was one of about a dozen students from various Chicago high schools at the rally.
“We think the clean energy jobs bill is something that will benefit our communities,” she said. “In general, clean energy is the future, and if Illinois is able to become a leader in that, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Sanchez said it is important for young people to get organized around climate issues.
“Climate change knows no boundaries, no language, no race. It affects everyone,” she said. “We think that youth have been the driving force of many different movements, and this is no exception. Taking climate action, especially now, is important, because we are going to be affected by the effects of not taking climate action.”
The students are part of a fellowship program provided in partnership by the Alliance for Climate Education and the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Over the past several months, the students from six Chicago high schools have learned about state politics as well as climate and energy legislation. On Earth Day, the Chicago students and other youth with the Alliance for Climate Education traveled to Springfield to discuss the clean jobs bill with lawmakers.
Under the clean jobs legislation, spearheaded in the legislature by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), the state’s 2025 energy efficiency target would increase. Specifically, the reduction target for electricity consumption in Illinois would be bumped up to 20 percent from the current goal of 13 percent by the year 2025.
At the same time, the legislation seeks changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to boost the share of power that Illinois gets from naturally renewable sources, including wind and solar, to 35 percent by 2030. Currently, the RPS requires the state to obtain at least 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Combined, these reforms would result in the annual creation of 32,000 new jobs in the state after their implementation, proponents say. The Citizens Utility Board estimates that the bill, if approved, would result in cumulative customer savings of $1.6 billion by 2030.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center has joined a coalition of organizations, elected officials and businesses in advocating for the Illinois Clean Jobs bill, which is not expected to get through the legislature before the regular session ends May 31.
Lawmakers are currently embroiled in debate over the state budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
In addition to the clean jobs bill, there are two other energy-related proposals pending in Springfield, including one being pushed by Exelon and another by ComEd. Like the clean jobs bill, those measures are also unlikely to see action before the end of the regular session.
The three energy-related proposals come ahead of new Environmental Protection Agency carbon emission regulations, which are expected to be finalized next month. States are given flexibility under the EPA’s proposed “Clean Power Plan” regulations to meet carbon standards.
Illinois has an EPA target of reducing power-plant carbon emissions by 33 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. After the EPA issues its finalized regulations for existing power plants next month, states have to turn in implementation plans by the following year.
Environmental Law and Policy Center spokesman David Jakubiak said Illinois lawmakers have decided to put off consideration of new energy legislation this session so that they can focus on fixing the state’s pressing fiscal issues.
“We’re mildly disappointed that we didn’t get the clean jobs bill through this time, but we are hopeful that we can get a really solid piece of energy legislation through in the veto session,” Jakubiak told Progress Illinois.
Jakubiak said there has been some talk in Springfield about possibly bringing components of the three energy bills together in one larger measure.
“That’s something we’d have to think about,” he said. “Obviously, we feel that the best bill for all of Illinois is the clean jobs bill and that there are significant problems with the proposals forwarded by Exelon and ComEd, and so we’ll just have to see how things develop.”