ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner Talks with the National Journal About Positive Outcome of Sen. Kirk’s Flip-Flop on Climate Change

After months of seesaw­ing on cli­mate change, Sen. Mark Kirk cast a ma­jor vote in fa­vor of en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tion Tues­day. But even still, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists are sus­pi­cious about wheth­er he’s really on their side.

Kirk was one of three Re­pub­lic­ans to vote against two Con­gres­sion­al Re­view Act res­ol­u­tions that would block the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s rules lim­it­ing car­bon-di­ox­ide emis­sions from new and ex­ist­ing power plants.

The oth­er two Re­pub­lic­ans to cross the aisle—Maine’s Susan Collins and New Hamp­shire’s Kelly Ayotte—had already pub­licly said they sup­por­ted the Clean Power Plan, but Kirk’s vote came as a sur­prise. After all, he had in­dic­ated sup­port for the CRA meas­ures in Oc­to­ber, and just a few months earli­er he cast votes against the cli­mate rules in an Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee markup.

How sur­pris­ing was it? The Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil blas­ted out a press re­lease that bashed Kirk for vot­ing “to ig­nore cli­mate change,” be­fore yank­ing it for a more fa­vor­able one after his vote was ac­tu­ally cast.

Keep Reading

ELPC Defends Third-Party Solar Financing in Wisconsin & Minnesota

In October, ELPC published an in-depth legal analysis of the following question: Should third-party owners of small clean energy projects – such as rooftop solar – be considered “public utilities” under existing state law in Minnesota and Wisconsin? ELPC’s legal conclusion was clear: They should not.

Here’s why: Third-party financing allows residents or organizations to buy power from a company that operates solar panels on their property, thereby making local solar energy more affordable and attractive to those who couldn’t otherwise afford the upfront investment. This arrangement is widely available in many states and has led to strong solar market growth. But utilities in Wisconsin and Minnesota are calling on regulators to treat small-scale solar system owners just like large monopolies.  That designation would effectively prohibit third-party solar financing and place extreme limitations on solar market growth.

ELPC has shared our legal analysis with clean energy colleagues throughout the country and expect it to inform legislative and regulatory discussions that are increasingly “hot topics.” Stay tuned.

LEARN MORE About ELPC’s Defense of Third-Party Solar Installments

Reboot Illinois Features Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

The Clean Power Plan will spur innovations and, over time, price carbon pollution. The high-decibel battles being waged in the courts and Congress miss the quiet revolution in renewable energy and efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market. Wind and solar energy combined with battery storage, advanced lighting, and other improvements are game changers. They are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system just as wireless technologies reshaped the ways that we live and work. Better still, energy solutions developed in the United States can be marketed to emerging economies and the developing world to reduce carbon pollution.

Solar power is making great advances through policy drivers and technological innovations.

Energy efficiency improvements are saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, creating installation jobs, keeping money in local economies, and reducing pollution. Distributed generation and storage, continually improving efficiency technologies, smart energy management systems, demand response approaches, and microturbines lighten the load on the grid and enhance reliability and resilience. A more decentralized system is also less vulnerable to extreme weather events and terrorism.

Commercial photovoltaic panel efficiencies are improving about 1 percent annually, and inverter technologies improved from 80–85 percent efficiency to 98 percent efficiency. PV panel costs have dropped to 80 cents per watt. The pace of technological change for solar energy reflects experiences with computers, smartphones, and digital cameras. 2014 was the third consecutive year of more than 50 percent growth in the residential solar market.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, and cheapest solution to climate change problems. There is a quiet revolution of more efficient lighting, heating, and cooling technologies, more efficient refrigerators and other appliances, more efficient industrial pumps and motors, and better building design.

Keep Reading


Update: Sen. Kirk Votes Against Resolution to Disapprove the Clean Power Plan

You helped make a difference. Senator Kirk sadly agreed to sponsor a Congressional Review Act resolution to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards from taking effect. That would undermine important public health protections and new clean energy development.

ELPC asked our e-activists to call Senator Kirk’s office requesting that he reconsider his position. He did. We appreciate that Senator Kirk changed his position and yesterday voted against the resolutions (S.J. 23 & 24) to disapprove the Clean Power Plan.

President Obama has made clear that he’ll veto the resolutions, which passed the Senate by a 52-48 vote. It’s very unlikely that there will be the necessary 67 votes in the Senate to override the President’s veto. The Clean Power Plan will go forward.

Your citizen engagement helped make a difference in persuading Senator Kirk to change his mind and support the Clean Power Plan this time. We appreciate his votes yesterday. Thank you for your participation and support.

ELPC 2015: What We’ve Achieved, and What’s Next

This is a transformational year for the environment. ELPC is seizing strategic opportunities for progress on the big issues. We’re achieving strong results in these politically gridlocked times.

First, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan caps two decades of sustained advocacy by ELPC and many environmental and public health colleagues backed by sound scientific findings. The U.S. is now stepping up as a global leader advancing clean energy solutions to reduce carbon pollution.

Second, solar energy, wind power and innovative energy efficiency technologies are poised to transform the electricity market just as wireless transformed telecommunications, changing the ways that we live and work. ELPC is driving new policies to accelerate distributed Midwest solar energy installations and install one million new smart thermostats in Illinois.

Third, ELPC’s successful litigation to stop the fiscal folly Illiana Tollway, protect the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and promote sound regional planning is transforming transportation policy to prioritize public transit and modern regional rail instead of politically clouted boondoggles. ELPC attorneys are winning in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.

ELPC is effective. Our teams of expert public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates and communications specialists, combined with the ELPC Science Advisory Council, play to win and know how to get things done.  ELPC is truly making a difference for a better world.


Your support has helped ELPC advance a cleaner renewable energy mix for the Midwest, accelerate cleaner transportation, and clean up the rivers and great lakes that we all care about. Please consider ELPC’s results and make a financial contribution to support our successful program work in 2016:


Ditching the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle and Protecting the Remarkable Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin_Illiana_250x330The proposed new Illiana Tollway is a fiscal folly, undermines sound regional planning and would harm wildlife and ecological values in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. On June 16th, Federal District Court Judge Jorge Alonso granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and declared that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approval of the Tier 1 final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision “for the proposed new Illiana Expressway was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of NEPA.” This is a tremendous litigation victory for ELPC’s public interest attorneys on behalf of our clients Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club.

More than a dozen newspapers across Illinois have editorialized against the Illiana “road to nowhere” during the state’s fiscal crisis and when there are much higher priorities for limited transportation infrastructure funds to enable badly-needed fixes for transit and commuter rail, intercity higher-speed rail, and highway and bridge repairs.

ELPC’s legal, economic and media advocacy and our clients’ public engagement have changed the proposed new boondoggle Illiana Tollway from a “done deal” to “terminal life support.” It’s time for Governor Rauner and Illinois’ political leadership to finally ditch the Illiana once and for all. ELPC is working hard in the federal and state courts, and in the courts of public opinion, to bring the proposed Illiana Tollway to its well-deserved end.


Installing One Million Smart Thermostats in Illinois – A National Model

NestThermostat_250x330ELPC and Commonwealth Edison worked together creating an ambitious new program to install one million new smart thermostats in Illinois homes and small businesses over the next five years. U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined us for the October 8th public announcement. This leading-edge initiative provides rebates up to $120, using the consumer-funded Energy Efficiency Performance Standards program resources, for the new generation of Ecobee, Nest and Honeywell thermostats that learn customer behavior and adjust cooling and heating without complicated programming. These “smart thermostats” can save consumers 15%-25% from their heating and cooling costs and reduce pollution. Once the Illinois program is off the ground, ELPC plans to replicate it in more Midwestern states. This innovative technology is a winner.


Accelerating Solar Energy in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota

SolarShedd_250x330Solar energy installations in the Midwest grew by 70% last year, creating jobs, new businesses and economic growth. However, the coal industry and some electric utilities are seeking to impose regulatory barriers to protect their polluting power plants and their electricity monopolies. ELPC is working to advance sound policies that drive clean solar energy forward and remove regulatory barriers to development.

In Illinois, ELPC was instrumental in helping enact and then design the state’s first $30 million distributed solar generation procurement.

In Iowa, ELPC successfully repelled Interstate Power & Light’s attempt to impose new barriers to solar development after we won a major case before the Iowa Supreme Court to remove utility-imposed barriers to conventional third-party financing arrangements for solar energy development projects.

In Minnesota and Michigan, ELPC is making steady progress with our state-based partners to design new distributed solar programs and strategies. We’re moving forward at this transformational time to accelerate solar energy development for a cleaner energy future. ELPC is pro-technological innovation, pro-competition and pro-removing regulatory barriers to solar.


Keeping the Great Lakes and Midwest Rivers Clean

LakeMichiganMichigan-sidebarThere are two main types of water pollution – from a single, identifiable “point” source and the “non-point” flows from farms, ranches and streets. ELPC is working on both.

This is the first year that the SS Badger car ferry did not dump about 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan. The ship now has a new coal ash containment system thanks to an effective advocacy campaign led by ELPC with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and our good colleagues. ELPC’s work to stop the SS Badger from polluting the drinking water supplies for 42 million people is a strong precedent that reinforces that it’s no longer acceptable to dump toxic pollution in our Great Lakes.

ELPC also brought together more than 60 scientists and policymakers for our second annual Great Lakes Science-Policy Confluence Conference to discuss solutions to mitigate “nutrient pollution” – agricultural runoff that helped cause toxic blue-green algae blooms in Western Lake Erie. In summer 2014, 500,000 people in the Toledo area were without safe drinking water supplies for 72 hours. That’s not acceptable. ELPC is stepping up our advocacy for the necessary actions to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural operations that caused the toxic algae and contaminated water supplies.

ELPC continues our Mississippi River protection legal leadership, and we convened a new collaboration of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia groups for coordinated multi-state action to help clean up the Ohio River, considered by some to be America’s most polluted waterway.


ELPC Is Accelerating the Next Generation of Sustainable Transportation

AmtrakELPC is a recognized leader in advancing the Midwest high-speed rail network, which will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and pull together the regional economy. We are working to accelerate new clean cars and trucks, which use modern technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce pollution.

This year, I was honored to be asked by Amtrak’s CEO to serve on a four-member Blue Ribbon Panel analyzing and recommending strategies and better practices to increase fluidity and reduce congestion for higher-speed passenger rail and freight rail in the “Chicago Gateway” leading to St. Louis, Detroit and the East Coast.



Making the Clean Power Plan Standards Work Well

coal_250x330This is the federal cornerstone for America’s commitment to climate change solutions. ELPC is working with many business, environmental, health and faith-based allies to overcome the coal industry’s and certain politicians’ litigation efforts to stall progress, and to effectively implement state climate solution action plans in the Midwest states. Overall, ELPC is advancing new policies to drive energy markets with technological innovations that can change the world.





ELPC believes in the core principle that environmental progress and economic growth can be achieved together, and we put that sustainability principle into practice every day. ELPC’s solutions-focused strategies engage diverse partners and seize opportunities to accelerate clean energy development and clean transportation technologies, protect clean air and clean water, and preserve the Midwest’s wild and natural places.

ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff teams of public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy experts and communications specialists are fully engaged across the Midwest, and we’re making progress. It isn’t easy; real change never is. We don’t give up. Let’s keep working together to win.

Thank you for engaging and making a contribution to support ELPC’s work to harness this change and achieve a brighter future.


New Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies Transforming the Electricity Market

My latest essay about the quiet revolution in renewable energy and innovative efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market was just published in ELI’s Environmental Forum (Nov – Dec 2015):  “Evolving [Clean Energy] Technologies Are Game Changers.” You can read it here.

ELPC’s Rob Kelter Talks Smart Thermostat Rebates with WGN Radio

ELPC’s Rob Kelter, who first conceived of ComEd’s smart thermostat program, recently joined WGN’s Amy Guth on WGN Radio’s Wintrust Business Lunch program to talk about all of the advantages of the devices. Take a listen!

Learn how you can get your rebate!

E&E Publishing: ELPC Expresses Confusion and Disappointment at Senator Kirk’s Opposition to Clean Power Plan


October 29th, 2015

Kirk’s Opposition to Power Plant Rule is Political Issue at Home

By Jean Chemnick

Reports this week that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would vote to kill U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan left many people in his home state wondering what had become of their moderate senator.

Kirk told Politico Tuesday afternoon that he would back Congressional Review Act resolutions to scuttle the new and existing power plant rules — striking at the heart of the Obama administration’s climate agenda.

But while the votes have long been a priority for his chamber’s Republican leadership, Illinois environmentalists and clean energy advocates were caught off-guard when Kirk — who has sometimes been an ally — pledged his support. The move was all the stranger, they said, because Kirk is one of the nation’s most endangered Republican incumbents in the 2016 election cycle — and all his current competition comes from liberal Democratic challengers.

“This is one that has all of us scratching our heads,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner. “Everybody’s reaction is just to be puzzled and wonder what he’s thinking.”

Kirk, after all, is not what activists frequently call a “climate denier.” He was one of the eight Republican House members who broke ranks with their party leaders to help a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill clear the lower chamber in 2009. Last January, he joined three other Senate Republicans on an amendment declaring that human emissions are a “significant” driver of warming, and in March, he backed a budget amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling for policies “protecting Americans from the impacts of human-induced climate change.”

In July, he circulated an email touting his role in removing a policy rider to the State Department’s fiscal 2016 spending bill before the Appropriations Committee that would have prevented the United States from making good on its pledge to fund international efforts to cut carbon.

“I am writing to let you know that this week we demonstrated more bipartisan support for reducing the effects of climate change around the world,” he told constituents.

But now Kirk has promised to vote to kill the core policy supporting the U.S. pledge to cut emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — a promise the Obama administration hopes will help deliver a global emissions deal in Paris in six weeks’ time. The Senate vote is likely to occur before the U.N. conference.

To be sure, Kirk has been a kind of legislative “Where’s Waldo?” when it comes to climate change. Neither his campaign nor his Senate office responded to calls to comment for this story. And the senator has refused to discuss the cap-and-trade vote in the years that followed, and even sometimes seemed to dispute climate science. He told Greenwire in January that the fact that explorer Leif Erikson chose the moniker “Greenland” for that frozen landmass might be evidence that climate change is natural, not man-made (Greenwire, July 9).

Learner called that statement “curious” but said he was comforted by the science amendment and budget resolution votes.

Then, in June, Kirk used the same Appropriations Committee perch to vote several times to preserve language in the Senate’s fiscal 2016 spending bill that would prevent EPA from implementing the Clean Power Plan.

Greens in Illinois felt betrayed by Kirk, who they said had always been an ally on renewable energy and Great Lakes preservation issues. But they also wondered what prompted him to take this position.

“We do meet frequently with his staff, and we didn’t see this coming,” said Amy Francetic, CEO of the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust, which promotes low-carbon energy.

The EPA rule is both popular and profitable in Illinois, Francetic argued. She pointed to her group’s polling from August — immediately after EPA released the final version of the Clean Power Plan — which showed that Illinois voters generally support it.

Sixty-seven percent of the state’s voters backed the rule. The number was the same for independents, whom Kirk will need to woo next year.

“I don’t think he’s necessarily aligned with the state on this,” Francetic said.

Kirk is also not aligned with Chicago-based Exelon Corp., the nuclear-heavy utility that is his fifth-largest campaign funder. Exelon has endorsed the rule as a boon to its six Illinois nuclear plants, which have struggled to remain online.

“The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which requires significant reductions in carbon emissions from power plants, calls for states and the power sector to find the most cost-effective solutions to achieve the reductions,” said a company spokesman.

“Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to meet the Clean Power Plan targets without the benefit of the existing nuclear fleet,” he said. States like Illinois will need to support nuclear or find costlier compliance options elsewhere, he argued.

In discussing his decision to support the Congressional Review Act maneuver with Politico, Kirk referenced concern for Illinois’ coal-mining communities.

“I have been very pro-employment to southern Illinois,” he said, referring to the state’s coal country. “With this rule applied, I don’t think we can keep a lot of people in Illinois happily employed.”

But Francetic said the green energy industries the rule would encourage are actually bigger employers in-state than the dwindling coal industry, with 104,000 workers finding employment in the clean energy sector in 2014 — excluding ones in natural gas and nuclear fields.

The National Mining Association reports that Illinois had 4,164 employed coal miners in 2013.

Learner said he didn’t understand Kirk’s political calculus in backing this vote. His main opponents thus far are Rep. Tammy Duckworth and Andrea Zopp, the former president & CEO of the Chicago Urban League, who are competing for the Democratic Senate nomination. If he fears a tea party-backed Republican primary challenge at this date, that candidate would have a month to file for a mid-March primary — a scenario that seems unlikely.

A July poll by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Duckworth 6 points ahead of Kirk.

“This is not Wyoming,” said Learner. “And certainly, given his relatively endangered status in a re-election campaign in a state that is purple if not blue, why Senator Kirk thinks it’s in his best interest to pander to climate deniers is a head-scratcher.”

‘Fiscal and social sanity’

A moderate GOP strategist was just as perplexed by Kirk’s recent decision to swing to the right. Even if Kirk — who spent his House career representing a suburban district that, like Illinois, leans slightly blue — does fear a primary, this is an odd way to burnish his conservative credentials, the strategist said.

“Why would you pick the environment to go conservative if you were worried about a challenge?” he said. “Why this issue and why now? He’s had an entire career of middle-of-the-road fiscal and social sanity.”

And Kirk is not going to the right on everything. He was the only Republican to buck leadership last week to block legislation that would crack down on cities that oppose enforcement of federal immigration laws. The vote drew conservative ire but was likely calculated to appeal to Illinois’ growing immigrant and Latino voting blocs.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said the announced votes on the CRA resolutions may be intended to balance the immigration vote, which was politically important.

“To be completely anti-immigration like some of the Republican Party is would be a dangerous position here,” said Simpson, a former Chicago alderman.

Kirk’s task, he said, is to keep “the conservative wing from putting anybody up to challenge him and getting the independent and some Democratic votes that he will need in the [general election] Senate race.”

But Daniel Weiss of the League of Conservation Voters questioned this premise. “The threat from a right-wing primary is more imaginary than real because the filing deadline is a month away and the primary would be three months away,” he said.

Weiss said that he was not surprised by the news that Kirk would back the CRA resolutions.

“After his three votes this summer to kill the Clean Power Plan, it’s not surprising that he would take that position again,” he said.

The CRA votes seem likely to further irritate environmental political action groups that in July ran television and digital media ads attacking Kirk for his support for the appropriations riders (Greenwire, July 6).

But the move might win some kudos from conservatives who once sharply criticized Kirk for his cap-and-trade vote.

“Illinois residents and businesses would see a dramatic increase in energy costs due to the regulations, with the poor being disproportionately harmed by increased costs,” said David From of the Illinois branch of Americans for Prosperity. “Any elected official who wants to decrease rather than add to the financial burden borne by Illinois families and wants to grow, not kill, jobs in southern Illinois should oppose the Clean Power Plan.”


Midwest Energy News: ELPC Defends Clean Energy by Emphasizing Legality of Third-Party Solar in Wisconsin, Minnesota

Wisconsin has become known nationally as a state hostile to distributed solar energy, with a Public Service Commission that has supported utility policies making rooftop solar installations difficult to finance and develop.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is generally known as a state where policies and officials are friendly to solar energy.

But in both states, a lack of clarity around the legality of third-party ownership, an important solar financing arrangement, has jeopardized or slowed the prospects for solar development, industry backers say.

Third-party ownership is a way that schools, government agencies and other non-profit organizations can finance solar installations and ensure that they can take advantage of tax credits.

In response to the situation, the Environmental Law & Policy Center has recently released legal memos making the case that in both states, statutes and case law clearly indicate such arrangements are fully legal (the ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News).

The Wisconsin memo, released in mid-October, is meant to help change the prospects for distributed solar in the state and jump-start a local solar industry that has been on hold because of what backers call hostile decisions and actions from utilities and regulators. In Minnesota, the memo released today is meant to bolster and protect a generally vibrant distributed solar outlook.

Keep Reading

Urgent Action Needed. Please call Senator Kirk’s Office on His Opposition to Climate Solutions

Today, Politico reported that Illinois Senator Mark Kirk says he will sponsor the extreme Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution being promoted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets standards for Illinois and other states to flexibly reduce carbon pollution.

Politico quotes Senator Kirk as saying:  “With this rule applied, I don’t think we can keep a lot of people in Illinois happily employed.”

Illinois is an economic winner under the Clean Power Plan because of our state’s clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources, and nuclear plants.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at (202) 224-2854 or (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

The CRA resolution is a highly controversial mechanism that has been only applied once in history and should not be used to attempt blocking the Clean Power Plan.

Senator Kirk previously expressed concerns about climate change problems and voted in favor of federal legislation to reduce carbon pollution. If the Politico story and quote are true, ELPC is very disappointed with Sen. Kirk’s flip-flop and his decision to sponsor the CRA resolution. We called his office today to express our concern and disappointment.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at 202-224-2854 and (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

Tell Senator Kirk that you care about the environment and want Illinois to benefit from the jobs, economic development and cleaner air that the Clean Power Plan can deliver.

Thank you for helping.

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now