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.
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.
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.
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.
Clean Power Lake County, partnering with the Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund (Springfield, Ill.), has launched “Support CPLC,” a fundraising campaign to help us ramp up public work to transition northeastern Lake County toward a clean, sustainable future and to fight environmental injustice in our community.
Since beginning in 2013 as part of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, Clean Power Lake County has accomplished great things: annual beach clean-ups, adoption of a Climate Action Pledge by the Lake County Board, and passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). Our fight for clean energy solutions even captured national attention through an episode of the National Geographic documentary series Years of Living Dangerously! We had gained respect as a powerful voice in the community.
By 2018, however, the national and local political landscapes had changed. Clean Power Lake County was no longer a viable part of the Beyond Coal Campaign. That meant we could no longer rely on paid organizers to handle administrative and organizing work.
For the last two years, Clean Power Lake County’s core membership has continued to work for environmental justice—entirely as a volunteer-led, grassroots organization. We continue to hold a place at the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition’s Climate Table. We are a member of the Illinois Environmental Council. We participate in numerous state and national policy groups. We support each other and the community we love by sharing information and educating youth and church groups about current environmental threats in our area. We do our best to organize our community for strategic actions to continue our core mission: moving Lake County away from polluting industries toward a clean energy future. We do this with no paid staff, no funding, and little discretionary time.
While 2020 has brought us many new challenges, it also has brought us new opportunities. The Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund (IECEF) recently agreed to act as our fiscal agent and awarded us a seed grant to help fund two internships.
All donations to “Support CPLC” will directly support two CPLC interns. The interns will immediately expand the work we can do to transition northeastern Lake County toward a clean, sustainable future and equip future EJ leaders to engage the people most affected by environmental degradation.
The IECEF is a recognized tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization. All donations made on behalf of CPLC to the Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund are tax-deductible.
To donate by mail, please use our downloadable donation form and send a check payable to Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund (IECEF). Be sure to note “CPLC internship” on the memo line of the check.
If Waukegan’s coal-fired power plant closed tomorrow, all of our lights would stay on—and 143 lives would be saved between 2022 and 2030, according to Soot to Solar: Illinois’ Clean Energy Transition, an analysis released October 24, 2018, by Union of Concerned Scientists.
In fact, the faster Illinois can retire its aging, inefficient coal plants—a critical step in the clean energy transition—the greater the benefits will be for communities across the state, according to the analysis.
Here’s how closing up to nine dirty coal plants will help Illinoisans:
Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 51%
Prevent more than 1,100 premature deaths
Save each consumer household nearly $100 a year on their electricity bills
Celeste Flores, Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place and co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and Jessica Collingsworth, Lead Midwest Energy Policy Analyst/Advocate at Union of Concerned Scientists) discussed the energy and health benefits of a just transition to renewable energy report on WBEZ’s Worldview on November 13, 2018. Listen to the WBEZ program here.
It’s time for 100% clean energy in Illinois. Are you in?
Clean Power Lake County is definitely in! We are proud to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132), which would set a path for Illinois to be 100% powered by renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and invigorate the state’s clean energy sector in an equitable way.
Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, explains why this bill is so important:
Communities like Waukegan deserve a clean energy future and it’s time for the state of Illinois to be a leader and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act!
For far too long, frontline communities have historically borne and, to this day, continue to bear the greatest brunt of injustice when it comes to the environment. This legislation says that that no community should be left behind as Illinois builds up its clean and renewable energy economy.
We can do this!
One of the pillars on this bill is to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2030.
This bill directs the Illinois EPA to begin a comprehensive stakeholder process to reduce harmful pollution from power plants to zero by 2030.
Many coal plant communities around the state have suffered the impacts of coal pollution just like Waukegan. A responsible transition beyond coal would address the largest point source of carbon pollution in Lake County, which is located on the Waukegan lakefront.
We recognize that there are real people, our neighbors, who have worked for years in the fossil fuel industry. That is why this bill calls for the creation of Clean Energy Empowerment Zones, to support communities and workers who are impacted by the decline of fossil fuel generation.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act — introduced February 28, 2019, by partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs coalition — would move Illinois to 100% renewable energy by 2050, cut carbon pollution from the state’s power sector by 2030, and create steps to electrify the transportation sector. At the same time, the legislation would help keep a lid on energy bills and lead to economic benefits, especially in the form of new jobs, for communities that need them the most.
The bill was drafted with the input of communities across the state, including participants in more than 60 “Listen. Lead. Share.” events.
Currently, the Clean Energy Jobs Act is working its way through House committees in the Illinois General Assembly.
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois’ 10th District recently wrote a joint guest column in the Lake County News-Sun to express their commitment to delivering bold, local action on climate. They also expressed support for the guiding principles of the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, an initiative launched in August in partnership with the Sierra Club.
This July, Lake County was hit with the worst flood in recorded history, inundating neighborhoods and businesses. It was the second time in five years a major flood event triggered a county and state disaster declaration. Just weeks later, California was ravaged by wildfires and southeastern coastal states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were battered by three devastating hurricanes that devastated so many lives and impacted local economies.
The frequency and severity of major weather events are an unmistakable warning of the escalating impacts of climate change around the globe and here at home. President Trump’s cynical exit from the Paris Climate Accord and Congress’s stubborn refusal to act leaves our economic future more uncertain and the destruction of our environment more rapid.
In these unpredictable times, we can’t count on the White House or State House to deliver bold leadership. Tackling climate change will require leaders that cross party lines and generational divides. That’s why we, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, are standing together to advance bold local action on climate change with the help of local leaders and grassroots organizations.
In August, we proudly joined with the Sierra Club to launch the Lake County Climate Action Pledge on the shores of Lake Michigan with a diverse, bipartisan and passionate group of environmental champions ready to take on climate change in our own backyard by:
— Creating a responsible transition plan beyond coal, which would address the largest point source of carbon pollution in the county on the Waukegan lakefront.
— Making a long-term commitment to pursue 100% renewable energy that delivers consumer savings and new jobs for our local workforce.
— Building green infrastructure that incorporates plans for sustainable transportation.
Advancing these priorities will demonstrate that reducing carbon pollution and increasing economic opportunity can go hand and hand. By committing ourselves to these goals we can reduce some of the most avoidable public health threats our area faces and enhance quality of life for all of our neighbors.
President Trump’s direct attacks on efforts to tackle climate change at best ignore and, more dangerously, reject reality. And no argument is more disingenuous than the assertion that we must choose between growing our economy and protecting our environmental legacy.
The indisputable fact is that the clean energy economy is growing rapidly in red and blue states alike. In 2015, clean energy created jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy. It’s the lower costs of wind, solar, and natural gas that are pushing coal plants to retire at the same rate as before President Trump’s election and his Administration’s roll back of critical EPA protections.
We are inspired by the many local residents, youth leaders, pastors and parents have marched, lobbied, prayed and demonstrated that they have the courage to forge a clean energy future for Lake County. We are calling on our colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to show the same courage and join us in this important work.
We must come together to leverage new clean energy policies in Illinois and make smart investments in energy efficiency across public and private sectors. This is how we can finally begin to realize a future for Lake County where climate action and economic development go hand-in-hand; where cities and workers don’t have to react unexpectedly to rapidly changing economic forces but are prepared to adapt and seize new opportunities, ensuring no community is left behind.
Delivering bold, local action on climate will not be easy. It will require leadership across political parties, all levels of government, and the private sector. That’s the task we’re now called to, and if we as public officials can match the courage of our families and constituents, we know Lake County can lead the way.
A letter by Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association—a lead partner in the Clean Power Lake County campaign—appeared in the December 7, 2017, edition of the Lake County News-Sun.
Compared to NRG’s coal plant on Waukegan’s lakefront, WE Energies’ Pleasant Prairie coal plant two miles north of the state line is nearly twice as big, half the age and 10 times less polluting. Yet WE Energies is shutting down that power plant this spring and will instead install 1.3 square miles of solar panels in the area by 2020.
That cleaner, newer, less health-damaging coal plant is closing and Wisconsin will see thousands of new solar jobs. Yet Waukegan keeps NRG’s daily deadly pollution and tiny solar projects built for show on a few local schools.
The utility industry has changed dramatically and Waukegan is behind the curve. In 2012, 19 coal power plants ringed Lake Michigan. None had pollution scrubbers. By late 2018, 10 of those will have ceased burning coal. Four more will have installed modern pollution controls that slash lung-damaging emissions 80 percent or more. Of the last five, NRG’s plant is by far the largest polluter operating on 1,600 miles of lakeshore across four states.
Many Lake County leaders, from County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and County Board member Mary Ross Cunningham to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Zion Mayor Al Hill, have signed the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, aiming to move Lake County beyond coal, adopt ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, and build climate-resilient infrastructure. In order to protect the health and livelihoods of their constituents, all public officials in Lake County need to sign that pledge.
The Lake County Climate Action Pledge is an initiative launched by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club. For details about the central pillars of the pledge, see our September 17, 2017, Launching the Lake County Climate Pledge post.
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois’ 10th District recently wrote a letter to Lake County residents to express his support for the three guiding principles of the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, an initiative launched in August by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club.
Climate change is very real and perhaps our most urgent present threat. Experience tells us and scientists confirm that failing to address climate change as a priority puts thousands of miles of coastline at risk, devastates frontline communities experiencing unexpected weather changes, and threatens the environment that generations to come should have the opportunity to cherish.
As part of this effort to address climate change as a priority, I am committed to taking steps to move our nation to cleaner, renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and geothermal. By doing so, we can move toward reducing, and eventually ending, our dependence on fossil fuels that produce harmful greenhouse gases.
I support a responsible transition plan beyond coal and other fossil fuels and toward sustainable investment opportunities into clean, safe renewable energy sources. Our vision should be striving for 100% clean, sustainable energy solutions that address climate change and will create quality jobs in our communities. That must include reimagining and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure and transportation designs integrating vibrant walkable and bicycle-friendly communities.
In addition, I believe that we must continue to rebuild our infrastructure—highways, bridges, ports and tunnels—which are a foundation for economic growth. We must also expand investments in green energy technologies with a focus on both conservation and alternative energies. Any infrastructure package must include a focus on improving energy efficiency and promoting sustainability.
As your representative in Congress, I have, and will continue to actively fight to address the impending threat of climate change. For example, following President Trump’s misguided decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement, I introduced H. Res. 390, a resolution strongly condemning the decision and commending cities like Waukegan and other towns across the Tenth District that have pledged to continue honoring the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. The resolution also urges the Administration to reverse its position on the Paris Agreement. I am honored and proud that more than 180 of my colleagues have signed on this resolution as cosponsors.
Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 1812, the Congressional Leadership In Mitigating Administration Threats to the Earth (or CLIMATE) Act to prevent the implementation of the executive order undercutting the Clean Power Plan and weakening restrictions on coal mining. I also remain committed to, and spoke on the House floor in defense of, one of our most magnificent natural wonders: the Great Lakes, as well as the important work of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The five lakes contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and are vitally important to the economy and quality of life of our District. Unfortunately, President Trump has proposed to completely eliminate this critical program while also proposing severe cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That is why I sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment in support of full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in FY 2018 and was pleased to see that the bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee restored funding for this important program.
Rolling back regulations and laws designed to ensure we have clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment is unacceptable. I invite you to join me in the fight against such actions that would result in degradation and incalculable damage to our environment and to work together to protect our environment for generations to come.
At a time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, public officials and residents across the country are stepping forward to take local action against the climate crisis.
Leading the way in Lake County, Illinois, is Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. He recently launched an initiative in partnership with the Sierra Club to encourage local community leaders and public officials to deliver local, bipartisan action on the climate crisis.
“With vision and determination, Lake County can move beyond coal, toward a 100% clean energy future, and invest in fiscally and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. Climate action isn’t just an issue for our president to fail on or Congressional leaders to ignore. Climate action needs local leaders to step up and lead us forward, and it’s going to start right here in Lake County!” Lawlor said.
Lawlor announced the initiative, the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, before a crowd of 175 Lake County residents and public officials who gathered at the Waukegan lakefront for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup.
The new initiative consists of three pillars:
Move Lake County beyond coal
Adopt ambitious clean energy goals
Build climate-resilient infrastructure
The solutions to these issues are related to solutions to serious social issues, said Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident who spoke at the rally on behalf of the Sierra Club.
“We sit at an unprecedented and, frankly, dark moment in our country’s history that has to be spoken to—when the President refuses to denounce racism and white supremacy, when immigrant communities and Muslims are under attack, when the head of the EPA is a climate denier and is actively rolling back critical environmental policies, leaving us to protect our own communities,” Ortiz said. “These are not separate issues: They are absolutely interconnected and so, too, are their solutions. We are called to new levels of courage to speak out on these threats to our community and environment and to take decisive action at the local level in partnership with one another.”
Eight public officials have already joined Lawlor in taking the Lake County Climate Action Pledge:
Lake County Board Members Vance Wyatt, Diane Hewitt, Judy Martini, Mary Ross Cunningham, Sandy Hart, and Ann Maine
At time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, Lake County residents who support local action against the climate crisis will gather at the Waukegan lakefront on Saturday, August 26, for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup. We will join elected officials in focusing on the need to transition Lake County beyond coal in order to create new jobs in the clean energy economy and make sure Lake County’s communities are healthy for decades to come.
In July, Mayor Sam Cunningham and the Waukegan City Council responded to the climate crisis by passing a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to uphold the carbon reduction goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an operating coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The Waukegan coal plant, owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy, is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The coal plant also is a major source of water pollution, discharging more than 8 million gallons of tainted water, including coal ash wastewater, every day directly into Lake Michigan, according to Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County, a grassroots campaign supported by community, faith, health, and environmental groups.
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor will be the keynote speaker at the lakefront rally. The Republican official, recognized in 2014 as one of six rising stars in Illinois politics, has worked tirelessly to promote economic development and investments in transportation infrastructure. In December, at an event promoting a national documentary that featured Waukegan as a symbol of the debate over our country’s energy future, Lawlor said that redevelopment of the Waukegan harbor cannot happen with a coal-burning power plant on the lakefront.
Also speaking at the rally will be Angelina Jose, a Waukegan High School graduate who now attends Northwestern University. As an organizing fellow with Clean Power Lake County, Jose has spent the summer helping community members understand how Waukegan can become a leader in sustainability by saying “yes” to clean energy, sustainable economic development, and local job creation.
Event Summary What: Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup Where: Waukegan Municipal Beach, 201 E. Seahorse Drive, Waukegan, IL When: Saturday, August 26, 2017, 10 a.m.
The Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup is organized by Clean Power Lake County.