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After Years of Grassroots Efforts, Illinois Passes Nation-Leading Climate and Equity Bill

By Renner Barsella and Hannah Lee Flath - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL -- Today, Governor Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB2408) into law, marking one of the nation’s most groundbreaking advancements in climate justice and workforce transition. 

“This landmark legislation is a historic step forward for climate justice in Illinois, the Midwest, and the nation. As the largest polluter in the Midwest, and historically a major coal-producing state, Illinois is now on course to show what a just transition to a clean energy future can look like, lifting up workers and communities while achieving our climate goals,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “We have shown not only that jobs, justice, and climate are inextricably linked, but also that there are tangible policy solutions here that could be a useful model for lawmakers in DC and across the country. Sierra Club unequivocally opposes nuclear energy, and though this bill includes difficult compromises, it overwhelmingly supports true clean energy resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, putting Illinois on track to replace all retiring dirty energy, including Exelon’s nuclear fleet, with 100% clean energy ”

Sierra Club joined other environmental advocates with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition in support of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which sets bold targets to: 

  • Put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 by increasing Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40% by 2030, 50% by 2040, and setting an ultimate goal of 100% clean energy by 2050, generating approximately $10 billion for Illinois renewables. 

  • Prioritize clean energy investments, job training, hiring, ownership, and new business creation in BIPOC, low-income, and environmental justice communities through some of the most progressive programs in the nation, including: 

    • a $50 million/year expansion to the Illinois Solar for All Program launched under the Future Energy Jobs Act, 

    • over $80 million/year to build a network of workforce hubs and contractor development programs, 

    • over $35 million/year for business development grants and low-cost inclusive capital access, 

    • minimum diversity and equity requirements for all renewable energy projects and support for BIPOC contractors. 

  • Completely decarbonize Illinois’ energy sector by 2045 with retirement tiers for coal and gas plants based in part on plants’ proximity to environmental justice communities and local pollution impacts. This approach marks an important shift in climate policy that prioritizes emissions reductions first from plants with the worst environmental justice impacts rather than a singular focus on greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Create just transition programs for communities and workers impacted by power plant and mine closures, including a Displaced Energy Worker Bill of Rights to support job training and placement needs, scholarship funds, and health care support. 

  • Tackle Illinois’ heavily polluting transportation sector by committing millions over the next decade to expanding access to and adoption of electric vehicles, public transit, and medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles with the objective of 40% of the benefits going to environmental justice and economically disadvantaged communities. 

  • Install rigorous new ethics standards with restrictions and transparency into utility finances and lobbying activities. 

Many of the policy pillars in the final bill were developed over nearly three years through a statewide coalition engagement process that solicited feedback, collaborated to set priorities, and fostered community driven ideas. A bill called the Clean Energy Jobs Act was born in 2019 from these dialogues with over 50 different communities across the state and through a coalition-wide participatory decision making process. In the years that followed, the coalition hosted five Lobby Days at the Illinois statehouse, during which hundreds of participants urged their legislators to ensure that the energy bill would prioritize climate and equity. 

“Environmental justice is about environmental racism. To address one requires addressing the other,” said Dulce Ortiz of Waukegan, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Executive Committee member of the Woods and Wetlands Sierra Club group. “This bill allows my community to embrace a healthy, clean energy future beyond coal. It prioritizes the closure of fossil fuels in environmental justice communities that have borne the burden of coal and gas plants for decades. It includes aggressive but achievable dates by which fossil fuel plants must eliminate all of their carbon emissions. These provisions will save lives - especially Black and brown lives in frontline communities.”

Sierra Club hosted dozens of town halls with partners to create opportunities for constituents to share bottom-up feedback on energy legislation with their local legislators. The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition delivered more than 20,000 petitions to Governor Pritzker’s office and in 2021 alone, Sierra Club and Clean Power Lake County volunteers called more than 40,000 constituents across Illinois to urge them to contact their legislators in support of a climate and equity bill.

“The passage of this bill is a significant win not just for Chicago, but for southern Illinois too,” says Sierra Club Shawnee Group Chair Jane Cogie of Carbondale. “Over the past two years, Sierra Club volunteers have worked with other local organizations in booths at farmer's markets, at town and county forums, and through community conversations to gather ideas and collect petitions from our southern Illinois neighbors. Our collaboration contributed to this historic bill and I can’t wait to see policy solutions benefit the southern Illinois communities that helped shape them.”

Because of the incredible grassroots movement behind the Clean Energy Jobs Act, many of its central tenants were included in the omnibus bill introduced by Governor Pritzker in May. Throughout this summer, volunteers held numerous actions across the state to demand a fossil free future for Illinois as stakeholders and negotiators worked through a political impasse to reach a compromise that satisfied the coalition’s climate and equity priorities. Sierra Club plans to continue its work to engage communities and ensure a robust implementation of this groundbreaking piece of legislation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

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