Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Don’t send more air pollution to Chicago

EDITORIAL: Don’t send more air pollution to Chicago
October 18, 2017
Sun-times Editorial Board

Last year, Illinois enacted a farsighted law designed to provide cleaner air, more jobs and lower energy bills. Now, a company that owns coal-fired power plants in Illinois is pushing to weaken clear-air rules in a way that would undermine those goals. The Illinois Pollution Control Board should take a deep breath and refuse to go along.

Weaker regulations, in this case, would be a big step backward. The state’s air, including in Chicago, would get dirtier and the transition away from coal would be detoured.

Last year, stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to utilities laboriously hammered out an agreement that resulted in the Illinois Future Jobs Act, a law designed to improve residents’ health and make Illinois a leader in renewable energy — all while reining in utility bills.

Since then, however, two utilities have engaged in what amount to counterattacks.

First, the Downstate utility Ameren, which supplies gas and electricity to central and southern Illinois, persuaded the Illinois Commerce Commission to let it lower its energy efficiency goals.

Now Dynegy, which owns eight coal-fired power plants in central and southern Illinois, wants the Illinois Pollution Control Board to scrap the limits on the rate of pollution each of its plants can emit. Dynegy, which also is reportedly seeking rate increases in the Legislature, proposes instead that existing annual caps apply to its plants as a group, which would allow it to give its dirtier plants more leeway to belch out soot and other pollutants that cause smog and acid rain.

The proposal comes as Dynegy faces a deadline that Ameren, which previously owned the plants, agreed to in 2006 to reduce air pollution.

In a classic example of the problems with revolving-door government, Dynegy has worked with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — a former lobbyist for a trade association that represents Dynegy — to draw up the plan. According to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, the revised pollution cap would provide a financial incentive for Dynegy to actually increase pollution if it chose.

For a hearing on Thursday, Dynegy is on the agenda with a request for the Illinois Pollution Control Board to rush through the decision-making process. But there is no need to rush. This is a matter that demands full input and careful consideration. Illinois does not face any shortage of power generation capacity.

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