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This article is one in a series being published by the RoundTable during Climate Week (Sept. 21 – 28) to bring a spotlight to the climate crisis and its solutions.  

The wheels of lawmaking in Springfield have begun to turn a little faster towards getting an energy bill that addresses the climate crisis. The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is working to make sure the provisions of its Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) become the basis for that legislation.

The Governor’s Energy Working Groups, for which meetings were suspended as the State responded to the pandemic, began meeting again last month and are now approaching the completion of their business. ICJC affiliates have participated in that and a parallel Senate group, advocating for CEJA. 

CEJA has become even more relevant and passage has become more urgent, as Illinois faces a global economic and public health crisis, a national racial and economic justice crisis, a crisis of utility corruption and the emerging, brutally obvious effects of climate change.

A revised version of CEJA is in the hands of the Legislative Review Bureau, which drafts and prepares legislation for General Assembly action. It will be released in the coming weeks. The new language reinforces CEJA’s status as the only comprehensive climate bill focused on equitable job creation, consumer protections and economic recovery. It now addresses the need for reforms that end utility friendly state policies. Written with communities in mind, it recognizes the urgent need to provide aid for communities of color, which have been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ICJC is ramping up efforts to get CEJA passed in this year’s fall veto session because #CEJAcantWait – a resounding message they hope everyone will use to keep the pressure on.

In encouraging news, Governor JB Pritzker recently announced his eight principles for Putting Climate and Consumers First, with a goal of passing legislation in the fall veto session that makes Illinois a renewable energy leader. While much work still remains, the governor’s principles largely align with the goals laid out in CEJA.

A poll taken in May released by ICJC and conducted by the Global Strategy Group found that 82% of Illinois voters support CEJA as the comprehensive clean energy legislation that would move the state’s power sector to 100% renewable energy, provide incentives to electrify the transportation system and create thousands of well-paying jobs, at a time when people and communities need them the most.

As Illinois grapples with the unprecedented job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, CEJA would create jobs in communities where workers and small businesses have been hit hardest and need support now: communities of color experiencing disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths and downstate communities left in a lurch by coal plant closures.

Equity and economic opportunity highlights:

  • Equity: A requirement that clean energy companies commit to equity in hiring, ownership, subcontracting and pay when seeking renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicle contracts
  • Workforce Training and Entrepreneurship: Creation of the Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs and Clean Energy Contractor Incubator programs to expand job training and entrepreneurial opportunities to communities in underserved parts of Illinois.
  • Community-based Solutions: Community-led clean-energy jobs and workforce planning, new incentives for building solar projects that power multi-family housing and clean-energy programing that reaches and benefits low-income and environmental-justice communities across the state.

Utility Reforms

In the wake of the U.S. attorney’s case against ComEd, provisions were added to make CEJA part of the solution. It would create a regulatory system in state law that makes utility companies accountable, requiring them to serve the public interest and operate transparently.

CEJA proposes to:

  • End formula rate increases, and direct the Illinois Commerce Commission to only approve utility investments, programs, and rates that are cost-effective and contribute to a cleaner, more equitable, and more reliable electric grid.
  • Replace Illinois’ outdated approach to utility regulation with Integrated Grid Planning — a customer-focused, long-term planning process that coordinates investments in clean energy, efficiency, and electrification.
  • Require utilities to pursue goals like affordability and equity and getting rid of utility incentives to make more profit simply by spending more customer money.
  • Prohibit the use of ratepayer funds for expenses related to federal investigations or ethics compliance.  
  • Create an independent monitor to ensure ethics compliance. 
  • Provide restitution for ratepayers from ComEd’s shareholders, by redirecting their ill-gained profits into programs to benefit communities that need resources most. 

A vast majority of Illinois residents support CEJA because it can unlock tens of billions of dollars in private investment and create thousands of clean-energy jobs without raising taxes, hiking electric bills or spending scarce state revenue. 

In the ICJC-commissioned poll, 74% of voters said CEJA should be passed immediately, and not delayed until next year. The state is facing falling revenues and surging expenditures due to COVID-19, and CEJA can put people back to work, especially in communities where workers and small businesses have been hit hardest.

That’s why CEJA can’t wait.