Editorial Board, Chicago Sun-Times
July 4, 2015
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week dealt a blow to federal efforts to clean up power plant emissions, making it even more important than ever that the Illinois Legislature passes pending legislation to boost energy efficiency and turn the state toward renewable energy.
In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court halted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, which sought to lower the amount of mercury pollution in air and water that comes from power plants. The rule wasn’t overturned, but it will go back to a lower court, which will ensure the EPA properly accounts for costs of putting pollution controls on the plants. The Supreme Court said the EPA did not take costs into account early enough in the process of deciding to regulate power plants emissions.
Even if the court’s decision proves to be just a temporary bump in the road for reducing mercury pollution, much of it from coal-fired power plants, environmentalists worry the ruling could encourage businesses to refuse to comply with EPA regulations until all court battles are resolved, which can take years. By contrast, utilities already are working to meet the MATS rule, and the EPA says 70 percent of power plants already are in compliance.
If the Supreme Court ruling encourages industry to move more slowly, the need for a state law reducing consumption of fossil fuels will become more pressing.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill would by 2030 increase to 35 percent the share of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, in the state. That‘s an increase from the current commitment of at least 25 percent by 2025. The bill would pay for that by raising energy efficiency standards, which save consumers enough money to lower their bills overall while also increasing jobs in the clean energy field. The bill has 58 co-sponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate, which doesn’t guarantee passage, but shows strong support.
Unfortunately, the Clean Jobs Bill is on the back burner because of the showdown over the state budget. Lawmakers also are awaiting two other developments: an energy auction next month that could reshape the financial contours of the state’s energy industry, and an upcoming EPA Clean Power Plan designed to reduce coal-fired power plant pollution that is linked to climate change. The EPA says the plan will be finalized later this summer.
The Clean Jobs Bill is not the only energy legislation in the current session. Competing bills are being pushed by Exelon and ComEd. It’s possible a final bill will include elements from all three measures.
Both the U.S. EPA and the Illinois Legislature should keep their energy initiatives moving forward. When the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference begins in November in Paris, President Barack Obama will need some environmental successes to show the United States is willing to lead the battle against global warming.