CPLC: New Illinois Law Will Help Build Equitable Clean Energy Future

Governor Pritzker at Chicago lakefront
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the historic Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. [Photo courtesy of Celeste Flores]

Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act—designed to build an equitable clean energy future for Illinoisans—is now the law of our land.

Clean Power Lake County is proud to have joined fellow members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition as well as Illinois House and Senate leaders in Chicago on Sept. 15 to see Gov. J.B. Pritzker sign the sweeping bill into law.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act combines appropriate pollution regulations with equity protections to help establish responsible transition timelines for fossil fuel plants like the one on Waukegan’s lakefront. These equity protections are essential to prevent abrupt retirement announcements that leave no room for planning and force communities to fend for themselves against profit-focused corporate giants. 

Clean Power Lake County has been fighting for nearly a decade to end toxic pollution from the coal-fired power plant in our front yard.

Waukegan deserves a just transition from coal to a clean energy future. And now we will get it: The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act invests $41 million per year in former fossil fuel communities and workers. It will replace lost property taxes, help workers with training, and support equity-focused workforce programs to help communities like ours become part of our clean energy future.

Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County

For far too long, Black and Brown lives have been sacrificed for the sake of corporate profits. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act finally stops putting the profits of inefficient and dirty fossil fuels over the health and safety of our Black and Brown sisters and brothers. 

This act addresses the historic inequities of pollution, creates jobs in the communities that need them the most, and invests in projects critical to our communities. Most importantly, we will leave a better community, a better world for our many generations to come, a healthy and clean energy future beyond coal.

—Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County

Congress, Please Fight for My Future!

Climate protest: "There is no Planet B"
There is no Planet B. [Image: Li-An Lim/Unsplash]

By Leah Hartung

From floods to air pollution to wildfire smoke to severe droughts, climate change has reached Illinois. Right now is our only opportunity to prevent the worst effects of the climate disaster, and I’m calling on Congress to prioritize climate action.

Illinois’s climate is changing: This summer brought the worst drought in over 30 years and record-breaking heat, and storms are eroding Chicago’s lakeshore and filling our basements with sewage. Yet we are also in a moment of opportunity. Congress’s infrastructure package has the capacity to make the 2020s an era of transformation and secure a just and sustainable future for all of us—but only if Congress goes bigger to match the scale of the crises we face.

Modernizing and greening transportation is key in achieving climate justice. In 2019, transportation accounted for 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We need to invest $600 billion in expanding and fully electrifying public transit, which would reduce harmful emissions that disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities while increasing the reliability and frequency of service. 

Investments in improving schools and housing create good jobs, protect communities’ health, and fight climate change. A $600 billion investment in energy efficiency, weatherization, electrification, decarbonization, and other building upgrades is a critical step in America’s fight against climate change and racial injustice. The students in Illinois’s most dilapidated public schools and the residents of our crumbling public housing are overwhelmingly low-income people of color. 

Not only is burning fossil fuels the main driver of catastrophic climate change, air pollution from fossil fuels also is directly responsible for more than 300,000 deaths in the United States each year. A disproportionate number of these deaths occur in low-income and communities of color. To achieve President Biden’s climate goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, we need at least $1.1 trillion in public investments in renewables. Furthermore, clean energy is popular: 89% of Illinoisans support funding research into renewable energy.

Yet we do not have to choose between jobs and the environment: Each investment is estimated to create around an additional 1.2 million to 1.3 million good-paying jobs every year.

As a college student in the middle of a pandemic, graduating soon into a global recession while the news is filled with disastrous climate change-related events, I feel anxious about the future. Still, I remain hopeful that this could be a turning point in human history. Our fight today to go bigger on the infrastructure package will influence the climate trajectory of our country. This is our time to address climate change and build thriving communities. Congress, go bigger and fight for my future!

Leah Hartung is a rising senior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia), where she is double-majoring in environmental science and economics. She is a fellow for Clean Power Lake County as well as a member of our steering committee and our representative for the Illinois Green New Deal Coalition. 

CPLC Celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month With Waukegan PrideDrive

Car decorated for Waukegan Pride Drive
This year, Clean Power Lake County will make its second appearance in Waukegan’s PrideDrive. In 2020, CPLC and Faith in Place volunteers collaborated on entries. [Image: courtesy Celeste Flores]

As a community organization committed to justice for all people, Clean Power Lake County is pleased to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. We gratefully acknowledge the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on local, national, and international history.

To kick off Pride Month, we are excited to participate for the second year in Waukegan’s PrideDrive. Members of our steering committee will decorate a car to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.  

PrideDrive 2021 is Saturday, June 5, from 1 pm to 3 pm. Vehicles will roll out from 269 W. Clayton St., near Jack Benny Plaza in downtown Waukegan. For route information, visit the PrideDrive Facebook page. 

The celebration will continue with an after-party in front of Nightshade and Dark’s Pandemonium Brewing, 216 W. Clayton St. 

The Lake County Health Department (LCHD), Waukegan Main Street and the LGBTQ+ Center of Lake County will fill the streets with friends, fun and pride. 

This event will follow CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health and LCHD social distancing guidelines. 

Celebrate Earth Month: Do a DIY Clean-up by April 30

[Image: constantinopris/Canva]

Earth Month lasts another seven days. That’s plenty of time to make a planet-friendly difference close to home.    

In years past, Clean Power Lake County volunteers have gathered during Earth Month to clean up the beach. This year, with the pandemic continuing, we had to think of a safer way our volunteers could make a difference. Hence, a do-it-yourself clean-up! 

Our communities could certainly use a good clean-up right about now. Thanks to the pandemic, we’re seeing more trash than ever. People get more take-out food more often. Grocery stores don’t allow reusable shopping bags. Coffee shops don’t allow reusable cups. And face masks are scattered everywhere. 

So we encourage you to organize your own Earth Month clean-up with your pod! Clean-ups are super easy to do on your own. They also are a great way to see tangible results in a short amount of time. 

Please sign the Clean Power Lake County Neighborhood Clean-up Pledge now to clean up your neighborhood, a nearby park, or even the lakefront by April 30. 

Here are our best practices for organizing your clean-up:

  1. Keep an eye out during walks or bike rides for places nearby that look like they could use a clean-up.
  2. Recruit members of your pod to help with the clean-up and pick a good time to meet up. (Whether it’s 30 minutes or 3 hours, everything helps.)
  3. Grab trash bags and think about where the trash will go when you finish. If you don’t expect to pick up much, you can just throw the bags into your own trash bin. If you think you will collect more than your personal trash can handle, identify a place you can drop it off or ask your alderman for help arranging a pickup.
  4. Wear reflective or bright clothes, long pants, and closed-toe shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. If you anticipate going off the trail or into an area with brush, first make sure you’re allowed to enter that area. (You don’t want to disturb a restoration in progress!). 
  5. Wear gloves. The thicker the better, so nothing can poke through. (Trust us, you don’t want to pick up trash with your bare hands.)
  6. Bring a speaker! Everything is more fun with music.

When you finish, tell us about your clean-up. We want to know how much trash you collected (by weight and/or number of bags). Even better, we’d love to see photos of your pod as the star in the effort to improve your environment for yourself, your friends, and neighbors.

4 Ways CEJA Can Help Lake County Communities

[Image: Canva]

By Whitney Richardson and Leah Hartung

Since its debut in the state capitol two years ago, Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) has become incredibly popular. 

As of May 2020, 8 in 10 Illinois voters supported passing the comprehensive grassroots bill, according to a poll released by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.

Now an updated version of the bill is generating new support. Last month, more than 1,500 people submitted pro-CEJA witness slips before a House Energy & Environment Committee hearing. A majority of the committee’s members voted to send CEJA to the House for a vote.

Let’s look at four ways that passing CEJA will help Lake County residents.

1. Relieve the heavy burden of toxic pollution 

CEJA will transition our power sector away from fossil fuels by 2030 and significantly expand clean energy generation. That will lead to significant improvements in air and water quality as well as in human health across Lake County. 

How? Coal-fired power plants emit vast quantities of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (which leads to climate change) plus dangerous mercury, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (soot). Solar energy systems do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases. Wind turbines do not release emissions that can pollute the air or water, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  

“The shift to clean energy offers a chance to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, while lessening the toll that dirty fossil fuels are currently wreaking on some of our most vulnerable communities,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a 2015 report.

Waukegan, Lake County’s largest city, is one such vulnerable community. Its residents have been paying a heavy toll for dirty fossil fuels for more than 100 years—thanks to the local coal-fired power plant. The plant, owned by NRG Energy, is the largest point source of air and water pollution in Lake County, according to the Sierra Club.

“Breathing polluted air contributes to an increase in health problems, including asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, reproductive harm, lung cancer, and early death. Some groups are particularly at risk—including children, older adults, communities of color, and those with existing health issues,” according to the American Lung Association.

CEJA also will provide economic development incentives for communities where coal plants have recently closed, help protect workers’ benefits and give them access to higher education and vocational training, and ensure that polluters pay for the environmental damage they cause. 

2. Hold utility companies accountable to consumers

CEJA includes strong provisions to protect consumers from rate hikes and prevent corruption, such as the yearslong bribery scheme to which ComEd recently admitted (Capitol News Illinois). 

One such provision is capacity market reform. 

Utility companies say the capacity market is a form of insurance: They are paid to guarantee that energy will be available during predicted peak use times. In reality, the capacity market has operated as a fossil fuel bailout mechanism: Coal-fired power plants are paid years in advance to supply energy to consumers during peak usage times that may or may not come down the line. 

CEJA will remove Illinois from the multistate capacity auction (conducted by the federally regulated PJM regional transmission organization). Instead, it will allow the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) to buy capacity. The IPA could then emphasize purchasing solar and wind energy rather than power created by burning fossil fuels. 

“If we implement CEJA, [Illinois] will stop paying $1.8 billion on fossil emitting coal plants and that’s something we’ll be able to tangibly see the impacts of on day one,” Rep. Ann Williams, chief House sponsor of CEJA, said in a February news conference. 

In other words, CEJA can remove undue economic and environmental burdens on Illinois residents while taking the fossil fuel industry off life support.

Another provision is ending automatic rate hikes for utility delivery services. CEJA calls for performance-based rate settings: The Illinois Commerce Commission would be allowed to approve only utility investments, programs, and rates that are cost-effective and contribute to a renewable energy electric grid.

3. Create environmental justice empowerment zones

CEJA will create Clean Energy Empowerment Zones (or Environmental Justice Empowerment Zones). These will offer tax breaks and other types of support for new clean energy businesses in areas where coal plants have closed in the past 10 years or where they may close in the future, according to an October 27, 2020, article by Kari Lydersen in Energy News Network.

The point is to help fossil fuel workers who might otherwise be left behind in the shift to clean energy as well as communities that have suffered disproportionately from environmental harms, unjust permitting, and limited job opportunities.

CEJA also will create Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs. The statewide network of frontline organizations will offer direct, ongoing support to minority and disadvantaged communities. For example, hubs could connect workers with job opportunities in the clean energy sector. 

As a recognized environmental justice community, Waukegan is slated under CEJA to become a Clean Energy Empowerment Zone as well as a Clean Jobs Workforce Hub. Among other things, this means Waukegan will get funding, job training resources, and guidance for economic development and revitalizing the Waukegan coal plant site (once it closes).  

These measures will be funded through emissions fees and coal severance fees.

4. Protect public health and our children’s future 

CEJA will help Illinois avoid the worst impacts of climate change in three ways:

  • Transitioning Illinois’ power sector completely away from fossil fuels by 2030
  • Supporting workers and communities impacted by the decline of coal
  • Significantly expanding clean energy generation and good-paying clean energy jobs  

It’s a vicious circle: Burning fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel fuel—decreases air quality and emits carbon. Carbon release contributes to climate change. Climate change can put our health and safety at risk. Climate change also can make it harder to clean up pollution. 

Extreme heat and flooding have already cost Illinois more than $6.5 billion and hundreds of lives in recent decades. According to Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition estimates, if no action is taken, climate change by 2050 will cause nearly 1,200 deaths and more than $6 billion in damage each year in the Midwest. 

The damages will be even greater in areas with poor air quality, such as Lake County. 

Illinois can’t afford to wait: We need to pass CEJA this spring. 

Let’s make it happen!

CEJA is headed to the House floor for a vote this spring. If you haven’t contacted your representatives about CEJA, now is the time to voice your support. If you have contacted your representatives about, now is the time to remind them you hold them accountable for supporting this important bill. You can write them here

Next, ask your families, friends, and neighbors to contact legislators, too. We need legislators to hear, loud and clear: “Lake County supports CEJA!” 

Last, but not least: Join friends and neighbors in your district and coalitions across the state for Spring Virtual Lobby Day on April 26. You will have the chance to talk with your legislators about the need to pass CEJA.  

Our clean energy future can’t wait any longer.

Whitney Richardson lives in Vernon Hills, Illinois. She recently completed an MSc abroad in International Environmental Studies and conducts legal, legislative, and policy research. 

Leah Hartung is from Libertyville, Illinois. She is a rising senior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) studying environmental science as well as a member of Clean Power Lake County’s steering committee.

CPLC: Statement on EPA’s Failure to Protect Lake County Residents From EtO

EPA map of cancer risk levels associated with ethylene oxide in Lake County, Illinois.
Residents of Lake County, Illinois, face elevated cancer risk levels due to ethylene oxide emissions. [Image: US EPA]

Political appointees in the Trump administration blocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from investigating ethylene oxide (EtO) polluters and prevented staff from warning Lake County residents about the carcinogen, according to a new report issued by the inspector general for the EPA.  

Clean Power Lake County is deeply troubled to learn of yet another example of Trump’s EPA standing with polluters instead of communities. But we are not surprised. 

Although the EPA was aware of the dangers posed by EtO, it buried this information. EPA’s action put tens of thousands of disproportionately Black and brown Lake County community members in harm’s way. The EPA failed in its mission to protect human health and the natural environment by allowing corporations to continue jeopardizing the well-being of our already overburdened communities and exposing us to highly carcinogenic toxins. 

It should not be radical for us to demand a healthy living environment. 

We will hold the Biden administration to its promise to address these findings and demand continuous, independent, fenceline monitoring for EtO in every impacted community across the nation. 

We applaud the Biden administration for creating the Environmental Justice Advisory Council—and we remind council members that tailored action must follow for each EJ community. 

The EPA must provide the necessary support and proper communications to state EPAs and county health departments. This administration must hold the EPA accountable for communicating with local governments and EJ leaders; supporting state, county, and local priorities; and enforcing federal regulations. 

We look forward to continuing to work with Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois—two of the four members of Congress who requested an investigation into EPA’s handling of ethylene oxide emissions—and all of our elected officials to hold the EPA accountable and to address the many EJ issues our community members face.

For more information: 

CPLC: Statement on Anti-Asian Hate Incidents

In March, thousands participated in protests in Atlanta, New York, and other cities denouncing anti-Asian sentiment. [Jason Leung/Unsplash photo]

As a community organization committed to justice for all people, Clean Power Lake County condemns the troubling trend of violence toward Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

The mass shootings that killed eight people—six of whom were Asian women—in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, are one devastating instance of violence against the Asian American community.

The Stop AAPI Hate Center received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the United States between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021. This number represents only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur. Still, it shows how vulnerable Asian Americans are to discrimination that ranges from shunning to verbal slurs to physical violence.

Most attacks target the most vulnerable members of the Asian American community. Women report 68% of incidents. Youths (0 to 17 years old) report 12.6% of incidents and seniors (60 years old and older) report 6.2% of the total incidents.

Our hearts are with all of the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities.

For information on how you can be an ally to AAPI communities, visit stopaapihate.org/actnow/.

CPLC Stands With Chicago’s SE Side in Hunger Strike Against General Iron Move

Today, four members of Clean Power Lake County’s Steering Committee joined a growing hunger strike to protest the move of General Iron Industries’ metal shredding facility from Chicago’s affluent, predominantly white Lincoln Park neighborhood to the predominantly Latino Southeast Side (East 116th Street along the Calumet River).

Clean Power Lake County co-chair Celeste Flores explains why she, Lupe Bueno, Eddie Flores, and Leah Hartung participated in today’s one-day solidarity hunger strike:

[As residents of] Waukegan, Illinois, we know all too well how environmental justice communities bear the burden of the health and economic impacts from corporate polluters. We stand in solidarity with community members on the Southeast Side of Chicago, who are on the fifth day of their hunger strike.

Fasting is used as a method of protesting injustice. In this case, the injustice is environmental racism—something environmental justice communities experience on a day-to-day basis. Mayor Lightfoot has had plenty of opportunities to stand with the people and not with corporate polluters. Today I am calling on Senators Durbin and Duckworth to intervene before it is too late for the community members they represent. 

Just [as they did with] the community members in Little Village—who in April 2020 experienced the demolition of the Crawford smokestack in the middle of a global pandemic that affects the respiratory system—Mayor Lightfoot and her team have shown over and over again they do not have the best interests of community members in mind when approving permits that favor corporations over people. 

Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth, it is not enough for you to come out with a statement after the permit is issued. This community deserves to hear you denounce the approval of the General Iron operations permit for the Southeast Side of Chicago, and they deserve it today. We look forward to you choosing to stand with people who live and work in the Southeast Side and holding Mayor Lightfoot accountable for her actions in this beautiful community.

A local teacher and two activists initiated the hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. They have vowed not to eat solid foods until the City of Chicago denies General Iron’s application for an operating permit. (For updates, go to #StopGeneralIron Hunger Strike on Twitter.)

According to a news report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating residents’ complaints that operation of the car-shredding facility would violate their civil rights.

As far as Clean Power Lake County is concerned, adding yet another polluter to a community already burdened by other industrial companies in the area is unconscionable. 

If you agree, please call on Senators Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin to intervene and condemn General Iron’s proposed move.  

CPLC Co-chair Joins Illinois EJ Commission

Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County in a video clip
Dulce Ortiz, seen here in a 2020 video stressing the urgency of passing CEJA.

Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, recently was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to Illinois’ Commission on Environmental Justice. She will serve through September 2022.

Ortiz currently is one of three commissioners who stand for communities concerned with environmental justice. She is the only voting member from Lake County.

The EJ Commission advises state entities and the Governor on environmental justice and related community issues. Members analyze current state laws and policies for their impact on the issue of environmental justice and sustainable communities. They also prioritize areas of the state that need immediate attention.

Voting members include 10 representatives of various state agencies and 14 members of the public.

Gubernatorial appointees include residents of EJ communities, experts on environmental health and environmental justice, and representatives of business, labor, and environmental organizations.

Ortiz has been a leading voice for clean air, clean water, and healthy soil for every Lake County community member—especially those disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution—since 2013.

CPLC: 2020 Highlights

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After the year we just had, the term “2020 vision” will never sound quite the same. 

2020 brought more than its share of tragedies and challenges, yet Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) had moments worth celebrating. We’re excited to share some of these moments with you because they highlight the many ways our supporters continue to show up to fight for environmental justice in Lake County. 

January 

  • January 6: CPLC joined Illinois Communities for Coal Ash Cleanup to comment on the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s draft rules for coal ash impoundments. 
  • January 6: The Waukegan City Council passed a resolution to support Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). The resolution recognized that environmental risks and burdens fall disproportionately on communities of color—and that these burdens cumulatively contribute to climate change. CPLC supports CEJA as a solution to both environmental racism and climate change at the local level.
  • January 14: CPLC co-chair Celeste Flores traveled to Texas for EPA public hearings on the proposed Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing rule. The proposed rule included regulations on ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions. Representatives of environmental justice organizations from across the nation attended the hearings. 
  • January 20: CPLC co-chair and Mano a Mano Executive Director Dulce Ortiz received a Drum Major Award from Waukegan Township. Announced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the awards recognize people who stand up for human rights and civil rights in their personal and professional lives.
  • January 21: CPLC joined other members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) at a press conference to demand that legislators block Trump-backed fossil fuel bailouts. ICJC said the bailouts exacerbate climate change, pollution, and energy inequity.
  • January 21: The public finally learned that Medline Industries in Waukegan had initiated a temporary shutdown of EtO operations on December 13.
  • January 27: CPLC helped deliver 38,000 petitions from Illinois residents urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to pass CEJA. Colin Byers of Waukegan spoke on our behalf. He was accompanied by Steering Committee members Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, Eddie Sandoval, and Celeste Flores.
  • January 29: Gov. J.B. Pritzker mentioned clean energy as a priority during his State of the State address. (Let’s continue to urge the governor to act on this priority in 2021; see actions at the end of this post.)

February

  • February 4: Co-chair Celeste Flores attended the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., as a guest of Sen. Tammy Duckworth to help shine a light on environmental justice and “raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way.”
  • February 18: CPLC signed a joint organization letter calling on the EPA to reduce EtO and other emissions from chemical plants to decrease the risk of cancer.
  • February 21: Co-chair Dulce Ortiz spoke at an Illinois House Public Utilities Committee hearing, urging legislators to protect communities against the harmful impacts of continued fossil fuel bailouts by passing CEJA and growing an equitable clean energy economy.

March

April  

May

August

  • August 11: CPLC joined national environmental justice organizations in sending a letter to the EPA opposing attempts to undermine the independent scientific standard for EtO.
  • August 12-13: Ten CPLC volunteers delivered public comments at the first of two sets of coal ash hearings hosted by the Illinois Pollution Control Board. 

September

October

  • October 7: Anticipating that CEJA might come up for a vote during the scheduled veto session, CPLC partnered with ICJC to create a video with our perspective on the need for CJEA.  Although the veto session was cancelled, the video remains a strategic tool to help move legislators during the next session.
  • October 31: As of this date, 1,712 people had signed a joint Sierra Club/Faith in Place/Eco-Justice Collaborative/CARE petition calling for strong coal ash rules. More than 310 petitions contained personalized messages.

November

December

Last, but not least

  • CPLC, partnering with the Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund, launched the “Support CPLC” fundraising campaign. Proceeds will help us ramp up public work to transition northeastern Lake County toward a clean, sustainable future and to fight environmental injustice in our community. As of today, we are more than halfway toward our $30K goal. To support CPLC, please make a gift here.

2021 vision

We predict that CEJA will pass in 2021—with your help! So we must tell our elected officials to pass CEJA now!

We have much justice work to do this year. Despite 2021’s disturbing start, we look forward to continuing this work, together, to create a more livable, more just world.