Poll backs strengthening of CEJA

Updated bill bolsters provisions for social equity, job creation, utility accountability

By Ted Cox | OneIllinois

A new poll of key areas on Chicago’s borders and in suburbs near and far finds overwhelming support for the Clean Energy Jobs Act, especially as the latest version of the bill strengthens provisions for social equity, job creation, and utility accountability.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition released the poll Wednesday, finding overwhelming majority support of more than 70 percent in three state Senate districts that span the city, suburbs, and farm communities.

“The poll found voters overwhelmingly support CEJA as a way for the state to recover from the pandemic, stimulate the economy, and create jobs without raising taxes, spending scarce state revenue, hiking electric bills, or bailing out Exelon, utilities, or fossil-fuel companies,” the coalition stated in a news release.

CEJA builds on the Future Energy Jobs Act, enacted under former Gov. Rauner, by setting timelines for the state to go carbon-neutral and entirely renewable in its energy production, while providing incentives and encouraging jobs in fields like wind and solar, and holding utilities and fossil-fuel companies accountable for both the environmental and economic damage done to communities in energy production.

According to the coalition, “CEJA would spur Illinois to build four to five times the amount of new renewable energy in the state and bring in more than $30 billion in new private investment to Illinois by 2030.”

CEJA had 75 percent support in the 17th Senate District, stretching from Chicago’s southeast side down the Indiana state line to Beecher, Manteno, and Momence. It had 73 percent support in the 4th Senate District, extending from the city’s West Side into the near western suburbs. And it found 72 percent support in the 14th Senate District, extending from the city’s southwest side down Interstate 55 to McCook and Summit.

“Of the voters surveyed, 71 percent think the General Assembly should take up CEJA now,” the coalition stated.

In the poll, taken earlier this month, African American voters showed the strongest support, backing CEJA by 80 percent in Senate District 17, 84 percent in Senate District 14, and 74 percent in Senate District 4, but that would still suggest strong support in the suburbs and rural areas.

The coalition touted new provisions for an Equity Points System rewarding firms moving into renewable energy, as well the expansion of workforce and incubator programs, with apprenticeships and on-the-job training, targeted to “underserved parts of Illinois.” The same focus extends to encouraging multifamily solar housing projects. The bill also calls for the immediate reopening of rooftop and community solar projects “to get solar installers back to work” in the pandemic.

“The pandemic is delivering a terrible and disproportionate blow to communities of color that are suffering and dying more from COVID-19 and also experiencing greater numbers of unemployment and financial hardship,” said state Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, whose House district overlaps with Senate District 4. “We need to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act to create a new clean energy economy that not only protects our planet but creates thousands of new good-paying jobs in communities of color that need economic solutions now.”

“Our communities want economic solutions that have the promise of new jobs and new opportunities at a time when so many people and families are struggling,” added state Rep. Robert Rita, whose House district is shared with Senate District 14. “The Clean Energy Jobs Act can be a critical part of our work to recover from the pandemic without relying on state spending or higher utility bills, and we need to pass CEJA now.”

CEJA has strong support in the General Assembly, with 56 sponsors in the House and 30 in the Senate, but it got pushed to the back burner during the abbreviated spring session curtailed by the pandemic. Gov. Pritzker has signaled support with his eight principles for clean-energy legislation, and it’s expected to come up in the fall veto session.

The coalition posted the latest update of the CEJA bill on its website.