4 Ways CEJA Can Help Lake County Communities

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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: 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.  

CPLC Members to Lawmakers: Pass CEJA Now

Clean Power Lake County activists urge Illinois lawmakers to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2020.
Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and other Waukegan activists urge Illinois lawmakers to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2020.

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. 

The thing is, Illinois lawmakers have yet to pass CEJA. So Dulce Ortiz, David Villalobos, and Eduardo Flores of Clean Power Lake County want to know: What is Gov. J.B. Pritzker waiting for?

CEJA will:

  • 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.

 

Clean Energy Jobs Act: Transformative Legislation

Dulce Ortiz at Clean Energy Day Rally, May 9, 2019.
Dulce Ortiz calls CEJA one of the most transformative pieces of state legislation in the country. [Karen Long MacLeod/CPLC photo]
 

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.

Rallying for Clean Jobs

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We rode to Springfield on a bus. We rallied on the steps of the state capitol building. We conferred with our elected representatives.

We were 43 people from Waukegan and nearby Lake County communities—and we added our voices to those of more than 300 like-minded people from across the state on April 21, calling for prompt passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (HB 2607/SB 1485).

The bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs Bill is supported by more than 41 co-sponsors in the House, 21 co-sponsors in the Senate, and a coalition of more than 160 businesses and 60 organizations.

The bill is designed to help consumers save money on energy, bring clean energy investment to communities, strengthen local tax bases and create family-sustaining jobs, according to the bill’s legislative co-sponsors.

Unfortunately, a full year has passed since the Clean Jobs Bill was introduced in the Illinois legislature.

In that time, Illinois has lost 152 solar jobs and 431 wind jobs. At the same time, Michigan has added nearly 700 solar jobs and Ohio has added more than 500 solar jobs, according to Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolar USA in Owaneco, who spoke at the Environmental Lobby Day rally.

“We simply cannot afford to be here a year from today, listing more and more states that, by then, will have passed us by,” said Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, a lead sponsor of the bill. “Illinois needs to act, and we need to act now.”

For many Illinois residents attending the rally, the shift to a clean energy economy is personal.

Among them, Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident and a leader with the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

“I am here because every family has the right to breathe clean air and have a healthy environment. Clean energy will bring jobs and opportunity to places like Waukegan, which desperately needs economic development,” Ortiz said. “It’s time to get these policies right. Bringing those projects home is a win-win for everyone in the community. We bring in more jobs and make sure my community is not left behind in the new economy. More importantly, it means the air our children breathe is less likely to make them sick.”