More than 1,000 Illinoisans advocate for Clean Energy Jobs Act in virtual lobby day

By Kelsey Misbrener | Solar Power World

Today, over 1,000 environmental justice, environmental and renewable energy advocates, youth activists, faith leaders, business representatives and consumer groups from every part of Illinois met virtually with over 80 members of the Illinois General Assembly to urge lawmakers to prioritize the passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA, HB3624 / SB2132) before next spring. Today’s event was the largest Clean Energy Lobby Day to-date.

Advocates made the case for CEJA noting that, in addition to the climate crisis, Illinois faces historic economic and public health challenges, a racial and economic justice reckoning and widespread utility corruption, making the passage of comprehensive, equitable clean energy legislation more urgent than ever.

CEJA would address these crises by:

Getting people back to work in communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Black and Brown communities
Unlocking an estimated $39 billion in new private investment without raising taxes or hiking electricity rates
Achieving 100% renewable energy in Illinois by 2050 and a carbon-free grid by 2030
Protecting public health by reducing pollution from the transportation sector
Lowering energy bills for businesses and consumers
Holding utilities accountable by ending automatic rate hikes and implementing new transparency and accountability standards
“It’s time for Gov. Pritzker and the pro-climate action majority in the General Assembly to step up and lead on creating clean energy jobs that puts equity at the center and holds utilities and fossil fuels accountable,” said Tonyisha Harris, clean energy programs director at the Illinois Environmental Council and youth climate activist. “Our communities need the benefits of CEJA right now — good-paying jobs, lower electricity bills and public health improvements — and if we are to leave a livable planet for future generations we must take bold action on climate change immediately.”

CEJA prioritizes new clean energy jobs in communities of color and environmental justice communities through the creation of Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs, a network of frontline organizations that would provide support for these communities that have also borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. CEJA also rewards companies that ensure equitable representation in Illinois’ clean energy workforce.

“CEJA is built on a vision for a clean energy future with quality jobs and economic opportunity for communities that too often have been left behind—particularly black and brown communities and those that have been hit hardest in this pandemic.” said Rev. William Hall, pastor of St. James Community Church in Chicago. “Gov. Pritzker has stated that equity is a clean energy priority of his, and CEJA is the only plan before the General Assembly that not only gets Illinois to 100% clean energy, but also ensures that 100% of Illinois shares in the benefits of clean energy.”

CEJA continues to gain support in both chambers of the General Assembly with a total of 56 cosponsors in the House and 30 in the Senate. Today’s virtual crowd applauded those legislators for supporting the bill and called on Gov. Pritzker and other lawmakers to address the looming renewables cliff and transition plans needed in communities where coal plants are soon closing.

Illinois is quickly approaching a renewable energy cliff, and without legislation to unlock new resources, billions of dollars in new renewable energy development will come to a halt. Attendees at the rally emphasized the urgent need to pass CEJA in order to ensure that existing renewable energy development enabled by the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act can continue.

“I am the owner of a solar development/installation business. That makes me a job creator in an industry that has the potential to continue growing at a competitive rate and make Illinois an economic engine in the Midwest, if only our elected leaders would seize this moment to prevent the solar cliff and job loss at a time when we can least afford it,” said Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolarUSA in Springfield, Illinois.

In areas where coal-burning companies are shutting down without any support for workers or communities, CEJA provides property tax replacement, job training and empowerment zones to ensure a just transition for communities.

“Governor Pritzker and our elected officials must take a stand against the legacy of the Trump administration’s pro-pollution bailouts and corrupt utilities in the interest of communities like Waukegan,” Eduardo Flores, steering committee member with Clean Power Lake County said. “Now more than ever we need to pass CEJA to provide immediate support for communities of color most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, to put an end to the toxic pollution in our backyards, and to hold fossil fuel interests and utilities accountable.”