Rep. Williams, Sen. Castro deride Trump administration’s ‘massive bailout of the fossil-fuel industry’
By Ted Cox | One Illinois
CHICAGO — Lead sponsors of the Clean Energy Jobs Act touted the measure Tuesday as a way to halt an $846 million hike in Illinois electricity rates brought on by the Trump administration as “a massive bailout of the fossil-fuel industry.”
At a news conference at the Thompson Center, state Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago blamed two appointees of President Trump for a ruling last month by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would potentially force Illinois to pay $846 million more for coal-powered energy rather than invest in its own renewable energy sources.
Pointing out that “market forces” had already prompted the announced closure of four Illinois coal-powered energy plants last year, Williams said, “It makes no sense to pay these dirty, out-of-date plants millions and millions of dollars a year when we could be developing a renewable-energy future right here in Illinois.”
Basically, the Trump appointees backed a proposal that would force Illinois to buy its energy through a federal market auction that has been weighted to prioritize fossil fuels. One of the key proposals of CEJA, Williams pointed out, is that it would assign the Illinois Power Agency the duty to buy energy to fill the capacity for Illinois consumers, independent of that federal auction. If passed, she added, the act would also set an “ironclad” reduction of 5 percent in electricity rates.
David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said the federal auction served to “artificially increase” prices paid to coal-powered plants and “force Illinois consumers to pay more for dirty power we don’t need.” He said that would have “devastating consequences for consumers and the environment.” He also estimated that the $864 million rate increase in Illinois would translate to each customer paying $5 more a month on average on their electric bills.
Kolata said it was critical for the General Assembly to pass CEJA this spring and for Gov. Pritzker to sign it into law this year, ahead of what’s expected to be the next federal energy auction in December.
“Not surprisingly, Trump appointees to FERC revamped the process to benefit the coal industry,” Williams said. Calling it “a massive bailout of the fossil-fuel industry,” she added, “The motivation of the Trump appointees is clear — to prop up the failing and fading coal industry.”
State Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin charged that Trump “is more interested in the profits of private companies than our health and environment.” As lead sponsor in the Senate, she said CEJA would “block Trump appointees from dictating energy policy in our state.”
Williams pointed to wildfires in Australia and erosion along the Lake Michigan shore with high water levels as clear evidence of climate change that can no longer be ignored. “There’s a sense of urgency in regards to the climate crisis that is ongoing,” she said. “Illinois voters are demanding we move forward on this.”
The Chicago City Council unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the Clean Energy Jobs Act last year, and Illinois Youth Climate Strike has also made passage of the act a main issue in its protests.
CEJA sets goals for the state to go to carbon-free energy by 2030 and to entirely renewable energy by 2050, with corresponding moves to shift public transportation to electric vehicles and strengthen energy-efficiency programs. It would also spark investments in local businesses in renewable energy — such as rooftop solar — and retrain coal workers, in mines and power plants, to fill jobs in renewable energy. Williams said it would also force coal-power companies to confront pollution such as coal ash and the “economic devastation” of communities that lose jobs when plants close. According to Williams, Gov. Pritzker “shares all these goals.”
The Clean Energy Jobs Act builds on the Future Energy Jobs Act, which took effect in 2017. But Castro emphasized that the earlier bill was a “negotiation” between public utilities and legislators representing consumers, while firms like ComEd and Exelon were “never a part” of negotiations on CEJA, which is much more focused on setting achievable goals for renewable energy and shifting workers away from fossil fuels and into the new energy technology.
“Let’s save money, create good jobs across the state, protect the planet, and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act,” Kolata said.