Howard Learner Crain’s Op-Ed: What Illinois is Doing Right on Climate Change

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

By Howard Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

President Barack Obama emphasized advancing climate change and clean energy solutions as a second-term priority. Let’s recognize Chicago’s and Illinois’ progress on achieving positive climate change solutions with clean technologies that are good for job creation and economic growth. Let’s also seize the opportunities to get more accomplished.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Energy-efficiency improvements create jobs, save businesses and people money on utility bills, keep money in Illinois’ economy and reduce pollution.

Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Performance Standards drive $500 million in incentives leveraging large-scale HVAC and lighting upgrades and new efficiency strategies. The City’s Retrofit Chicago program should accelerate energy-efficiency building improvements. Full speed ahead now!

Saving energy saves consumers money. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner lakes for all. Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?

Coal plants emit huge carbon pollution. Progress: The old Fisk and Crawford coal plants shut down, and Chicago’s electricity supply procurement requires “no coal.”

Next: More Chicago-area municipalities should replicate “no coal” in their electricity procurement contracts, and businesses touting sustainability should “buy green, not brown” power. Midwest Generation, which burns Wyoming coal at its nine northern Illinois coal plants, has filed for bankruptcy because the plants aren’t economically competitive. No public bailout, please.

Wind and solar energy development drive new manufacturing and technical jobs, economic growth and pollution-free energy. Illinois is No. 4 nationally for wind-power generation and home to 300 wind and solar supply-chain businesses and 18,000 related jobs. Chicago has 13 wind-power corporate headquarters and hosts the American Wind Energy Association’s annual convention in May. That’s progress.

Next: Illinois’ legislators should update the statutory Renewable Energy Standards, which were based on ComEd’s power supply purchases before all of the municipal aggregations. These adjustments are needed to spur wind-power development here. As technological innovations improve solar panel efficiency, Chicago’s SunShot program can remove barriers to rooftop solar development and convert underutilized “industrial brownfields” into “solar brightfields.” Get the policies right to advance Illinois’ renewable energy economy leadership.

Cleaner, more efficient cars save us money at the gas pump, reduce carbon pollution and improve national security by cutting foreign oil imports. The federal clean car standards require a fleetwide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Next: Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and business fleets should purchase more electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles. Transit agencies: Keep going. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors: How about building more clean cars at your Illinois plants?

High-speed rail development across Illinois and Michigan will improve mobility, reduce carbon pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. There are 460 Midwest rail equipment supply-chain businesses, including Nippon Sharyo assembling 130 new rail cars in Rochelle.

Next: The modern Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network needs federal transportation funds and a modernized Union Station. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn should lead together and prioritize transforming the region’s rail transportation infrastructure.

Chicago and Illinois are creating jobs and boosting our economy through ways that help solve climate change problems. Let’s be the national leader for solutions.

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