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 is excited to introduce the newest members of its steering committee: Eddie Flores and Leah Hartung.
Let’s learn a little about them and the work they’ve done so far with CPLC.
Meet Eddie Flores
Eddie Flores, 18, was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois. He’s currently studying at College of Lake County but plans to take a gap year in 2021. He enjoys skating, backpacking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing, cooking, tinkering with electronics, and playing video games. He’s also really passionate about the environment.
Eddie reached out to CPLC in September 2019 while organizing a walkout at his school to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). He had learned about teens participating in the global climate strikes and wanted to take part. When he couldn’t find any strikes nearby, he decided to organize one. He said CPLC provided him with helpful resources and information on what was going on in his city. He decided to get involved so he could learn about environmental justice and how to help his community.
Eddie has done a lot so far—speaking about coal ash rules at a local listening session last fall and at a statewide virtual hearing this year; advocating for CEJA with elected officials in Springfield; and speaking at a youth town hall during this year’s virtual lobby day.
Next, he plans to do a year of youth outreach. He wants to have biweekly conversations on Zoom about environmental issues like Superfund sites, ethylene oxide (EtO), plastic pollution, and the impacts of climate change, including floods and fires. (“This will be a chill type of Zoom setting that’s more of a conversation rather than a boring type of presentation!” he says.) He also plans to continue sharing resources to help youth learn more about local issues and ways they can get involved.
“Growing up, I was never really taught about the coal plant or our Superfund sites in school and feel like it is something that really needs to be taught. I hope to connect people—especially youth—to this fight since we’re the ones that are going to be inheriting this planet,” Eddie said.
What will the world look like when Eddie has accomplished these goals? How will he know his work has been “done”?
“Achieving these goals would result in students growing up here having learned about Waukegan’s history of pollution and all of the ways in which corporations have exploited this town. Kids growing up here understanding that the reason why 1 in 3 kids here have asthma is due to the coal plant. The truth of the matter is, this work will never be done as communities of color are going to continue being hit the hardest by the effects of climate change. Communities like mine are all over the world dealing with environmental justice issues like flooding, fires, droughts, storms, pollution and much more—all caused or intensified by corporations and money-hungry CEOs that don’t care how many people they’ll kill or what world they’ll leave their children to inherit.”
Meet Leah Hartung
Leah Hartung, originally from Libertyville, Illinois, is currently a junior at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s double majoring in environmental science and economics.
When everything was cancelled earlier this year because of the pandemic, Leah wanted to spend her free time helping her community. She had learned about CPLC through an environmental event she attended in high school. Since she was interested in environmental justice—particularly energy policy—she reached out to see how she could get involved.
Leah is the mastermind behind CPLC’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. She develops a lot of original content for Instagram because she wants it to be a place where people in Lake County can learn about local environmental issues and injustices.
As a steering committee member, Leah wants to grow CPLC’s social media presence and reputation as the place to go for crucial environmental and social justice information in Lake County.
She also hopes to see CPLC grow “as we find ways to involve all our amazing members during the pandemic!”
What will the world look like when Leah has accomplished these goals? How will she know her work has been “done”?
“I would love to see high engagement on the posts, particularly seeing lots of our followers posting our content onto their own personal accounts because they find it useful. I would love to see around 1,000 followers on Instagram and 100 likes per post!”
Leah’s goal can be reached with your support—so be sure to follow CPLC!
Whitney Richardson lives in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and recently completed a Master of Science degree in international environmental studies.
We see you packing your (figurative) bags in preparation for your move into the White House. As you make plans to enact your presidential agenda, we urge you to use your executive powers to simultaneously and swiftly make right on all of the following:
Confront and prohibit all emissions and harmful disposal of noxious pollutants—such as ethylene oxide (EtO) and coal ash—that disproportionately harm Black and brown communities and, particularly, low-income communities. Champion efforts to ensure impacted communities can secure dignified work in their region.
As an underlying principle, we demand your administration prioritize people over profits. For too long, climate summits have reflected industry interests over the will of the people—effectively disabling potential for meaningful climate action. We’ve had enough. We’ve seen the data. We know what needs to be done.
We must remember we are here under the condition that our planet—experienced through our micro-environments—can retain the capacity to sustain us. It’s time to restore this essential lesson within our collective conscience. Climate change won’t wait. Our health won’t wait. Meaningful action can’t wait.
Clean Power Lake County Waukegan, Illinois
Whitney Richardson lives in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and recently completed a Master of Science degree in international environmental studies.
Storms are becoming more intense. Sea levels are rising. Disastrous wildfires are destroying record acreage (2.5 million this year) and impairing air quality over multistate regions. Climate change and COVID-19 are causing unprecedented public health and economic crises. There is no time to wait for cleaner, healthier, more affordable energy.
And we don’t have to wait. The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) will create thousands of jobs in Illinois’ growing clean energy industry—without raising taxes or hiking utility rates. No wonder 82% of Illinois voters support CEJA, according to a May 2020 poll released by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.
Put jobs and equity at the center of a clean energy future, creating well-paying jobs in the communities where they are needed the most
Guarantee cost savings on electricity bills for consumers through capacity market reform
Put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 by taking advantage of the falling cost of wind and solar power and focusing on energy efficiency
Provide a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities
Reduce air and water pollution from the fossil fuel industry
As we approach the final legislative session of 2020, will you stand for clean energy, clean air, and clean water? Tell lawmakers that CEJA must take precedence in the November veto session: Sign our “Pass CEJA” petition today.
Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132) is one of the most transformative pieces of state legislation in the country.
Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County, speaking at a May 9, 2019, rally for clean energy at the Illinois State Capitol, explains why:
It is amazing to see so many people from communities across Illinois here with us as we rally for the future we all deserve.
We are united by an unwavering commitment for Illinois to lead in addressing climate change. We are united by our commitment to power Illinois with 100% clean energy. We are united by our commitment to create quality careers in the clean energy economy and accessible to all communities — especially those left out of other sectors of our economy. And we are united by our commitment to transition beyond dirty fuels and to make sure that communities who carry the greatest burden of pollution and impacts from climate change are prioritized in this transition to 100% clean energy.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) is how we will get there.
Last year, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition conducted its “Listen. Lead. Share.” campaign, which included more than 60 community-based conversations on energy policy across the state.
We listened, and the input we received from those conversations formed the foundation of CEJA, one of the most transformative pieces of state legislation in the country.
CEJA is built on a vision for a clean energy future for Illinois based on what communities across the state need and want:
A 100% clean energy economy by 2050 with quality jobs and new economic opportunities
A just transition beyond fossil fuels by 2030 so communities from Waukegan to Carbondale can have healthier and more prosperous futures for their children
More consumer savings as we double down on energy efficiency programs
Greater access to cleaner transportation and electric vehicles
This bill is about so much more than repowering Illinois with 100 percent clean energy. It’s also about transforming who holds the power in Illinois and building a sustainable economy that works for everyone — not just utilities and out-of-state energy companies.
That means that every part of the state — especially those communities that too often have been left behind — have access to the jobs and investments in the green economy.
CEJA works to build a sustainable energy economy that is no longer building generational wealth on the backs of underrepresented and environmental justice communities. Even when it may be politically challenging, we’re called to stand shoulder to shoulder with our black and brown sisters and brothers and our working class white brothers and sisters in Central and Southern Illinois to ensure this transition to 100% is just, helping to repair the legacies of pollution and divestment and deliver on the economic promise of clean energy.
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.
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.
In Years of Living Dangerously, some of Hollywood’s most influential stars reveal emotional and hard-hitting accounts of the effects of climate change around the planet. Now the Emmy-winning series is focusing national attention on the fight to bring clean energy solutions to Waukegan.
Years of Living Dangerously will feature actress America Ferrera along with members of the Clean Power Lake County campaign in an episode airing December 14 (10/9c) on the National Geographic channel. (Don’t have cable? The episodes will be available on Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and NatGeo’s TV Everywhere app after midnight EST the next day.)
Clean Power Lake County will host a special Years of Living Dangerously preview event on December 4. Guests will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the upcoming episode, learn what Clean Power Lake County is doing to move Waukegan beyond coal, and talk with local leaders about how community members can work together to revitalize the Waukegan lakefront.
America Ferrera has won a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Emmy Award. She has appeared on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. She has been honored in Congress as an outstanding role model for young Latinas. And now she has visited Waukegan to help shine additional light on real people affected by climate change.