Illinois poised for a job-creating energy future

By Elizabeth Scrafford

Spring rains this year are bringing high floodwaters to the Metro East once again, reminding us that our climate is changing before our eyes. Floodwaters worry farmers because it is planting season, concern home and business owners who may or may not be able to save their investments, and trouble everyone else who understands environmental toxins like coal ash sit near the floodplains.

In East Alton, we have a closed coal plant with ponds full of tons of coal ash, which is contaminating groundwater. Across the river sits the Portage des Sioux coal plant, which is still in operation and continues to place coal ash into impoundments on site.

Coal ash ponds are a constant reminder of the outdated practice of burning coal for energy. A report issued by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network, and Sierra Club revealed unsafe concentrations of dangerous coal ash pollutants in groundwater at 22 of 24 reporting coal ash dumpsites in Illinois.

Ash ponds aren’t the only problematic part of coal plants — these units emit air pollution that harms our environment and impacts our health. And they are a part of the dirty energy economy that has been slowly dying in Illinois for years. Dynegy (the operator of most coal plants in Illinois) merged with Vistra Energy last year. This is the third ownership turnover in the last decade — making coal plants the hot potato of the state. No one wants them, not even the owners.

Illinois residents understand clean air and water and a clean energy future aren’t partisan issues, but are in the best interest of our communities. And thanks to bipartisan leadership, Illinois is at a precipice — emerging as a clean energy leader because of the Future Energy Jobs Act and ready to take the leap into a 100 percent clean energy future. With talk of a Green New Deal happening at the national level, many are asking how we get there. That how is an important piece, and I’ve been excited to play a small role in the Clean Jobs Coalition’s creation of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The Clean Jobs Coalition held 60-plus listening sessions across the state last year, including three sessions in the Metro East, to get policy feedback that has helped shape CEJA.

The key parts of CEJA include job creation, putting Illinois on a path to 100 percent clean energy in an equitable way, and replacing the equivalent of 1 million gas and diesel vehicles from the road with electric vehicles. Not only will CEJA create jobs, thoughtful planning has ensured these jobs are spread throughout the state and especially target disadvantaged communities.

The bill is ambitious but achievable. Governor JB Pritzker has already taken a stand and committed to putting Illinois on a path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and so have dozens of legislators throughout the state.

CEJA would build more than 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines across Illinois by 2030, generating more than $30 billion in new infrastructure. It will spur enough new wind and solar development to power more than four million homes; more than four times what we were able to accomplish under FEJA. And it will take a trained workforce to get the job done.

Communities in the Metro East like East Alton and East St. Louis are in dire need of resources — new legislation like CEJA can help spur development and create jobs where there has been none. It’s time for our area legislators to join the 60-plus other co-sponsors and add their names to Senate Bill 2132 and House Bill 3624.

Read the entire piece at the Alton Advantage.