Illinois Did Its Very Own Green New Deal!
Photo: Joseph Gage, Creative Commons License 2.0

If you want to take the risk of getting a little optimistic about the prospects of getting this crazy world through the climate emergency, take a look at the latest edition of David Roberts's "Volts" newsletter, which is pretty much a green nerdy love letter to the ambitious new climate bill that the state of Illinois just enacted. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the state's Climate and Equitable Jobs Act on September 15, and Roberts, who knows his climate legislation, says it's "one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country," and makes Illinois the first state in the Midwest to commit to reaching net zero carbon emissions.

It's not just a really good bill; it was also passed through a process that other states should look to in their own climate plans, bringing a whole bunch of very diverse stakeholders into the negotiations. In fact, only one major stakeholder — the state's biggest electric utility — wasn't at the table, and that may have made a huge difference:

Exelon subsidiary ComEd had been caught up in a bribery scandal that left it disempowered and weak, under a deferred prosecution agreement. The scandal also led to House Speaker Michael Madigan, a reliable utility ally, being removed from his position.

Utilities were, to put it crudely, on the shit list, allowing political leadership to restrain their historic (and largely counterproductive) influence.

It remains to be seen whether the Illinois example will lead climate activists to urge their states' biggest carbon polluters to please get caught taking bribes; perhaps it would be enough to simply do everything possible to keep them from bigfooting states' climate plans.

Even without the utility interests there to muck things up, Roberts says, the negotiations weren't easy:

the bill was declared dead several times. Senate President Don Harmon (D) said several times that it is the single most complex piece of legislation he'd ever worked on. There were uncertainties and impasses right up through the final week.

But they got it done! It passed with bipartisan supermajorities: 83-33 in the House and 37-17 in the Senate. [...]

By all accounts, everyone performed their roles ably, holding an unwieldy coalition together through choppy waters. Illinois politics reporter Rich Miller has a nice rundown of the final passage, which he calls "a spectacular victory."

From the beginning, everyone involved was more or less aligned around rapid growth of renewable energy and full decarbonization of the electricity sector by 2045.

So what's in this thing? As Roberts points out, renewable power currently makes up a bit less than 10 percent of Illinois's electric mix; 40 percent comes from nuclear, so the plan includes $700 million in subsidies for three nuclear generating stations over the next five years. That's just a fraction of the $5 billion Exelon had wanted, but an analysis commissioned by the state determined the lower amount would be sufficient.

The new renewable portfolio standard (RPS) will raise renewables' share to 40 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040, with the goal of a zero-carbon electricity sector by 2045 — and beyond that, a net-zero-carbon state economy by 2050. This is extremely ambitious and a new benchmark for the Midwest.

The plan includes subsidies to renewable energy, and an expansion of a solar power program that "helps get rooftop solar power to low-income renters and homeowners (as well as public buildings and nonprofits serving environmental justice communities)." And the bill also sets retirement schedules for the state's fossil fuel generating plants, with all commercial coal and oil-fueled plants set to be shut down by 2030. Natural gas power plants will have to either close or switch to hydrogen gas by 2045, with limits on their emissions as well.

One of the thorny elements of the negotiations involved figuring out a schedule for shutting down two relatively new municipally owned coal-fired plants; ideally, you'd want them shuttered as fast as possible, particularly since one of them "costs more to run than its power is worth." Because the communities that had funded the plants with municipal bonds worried they'd lose money if the plants closed early, they'll keep running until 2045, but will have to cut emissions along the way. Negotiations are complicated things.

And here's a pretty awesome environmental justice part of the law:

fossil fuel plants will be shut down according to their proximity to low-income and marginalized communities, not necessarily according to greenhouse gases or economics.

That commitment to going green with justice is built into a lot of other parts of the plan as well. For instance, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will subsidize 80 percent of the cost of building up the state's electric vehicle infrastructure, and a full 45 percent of those rebates "will be channeled to projects in low-income and marginalized communities."

The law also includes a bunch of labor protections, and even a requirement that projects demonstrate that they've recruited a diverse workforce. Says Roberts:

As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state's energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.

Oh, we can hardly wait to see Tucker Carlson cry big fat bigot tears over that.

Also too, the law includes a number of provisions aimed at helping workers and communities make the transition from depending on the fossil fuel economy and to help marginalized communities attract clean energy projects. Some of the ideas just make me smile at how smartly they target spending, like a "program to train and place soon-to-be-released incarcerated people in clean-energy fields," and subsidies to help develop "solar and storage on the site of closed fossil-fuel plants, to help employ laid-off workers." There's also a "scholarship fund for children in families of laid-off workers."

And to prevent sudden, lurching changes, the law requires companies to give communities two years' advance notice before shutting down fossil fuel plants, "so that such communities can be identified and receive transition assistance."

Go read the whole thing; it's a really neat look at how democracy really can work to move us toward a cleaner, more just future. It definitely wasn't easy, but it got done, compromises and gains and all.

Good going Illinois. Now other states have a model to follow, even if there's no conveniently timed federal corruption charges to help take big utilities out of the process. But muckrakers and journalists should keep their eyes open anyway.

[Volts / Photo: Joseph Gage, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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