Growing the Green Economy

On Climate Change: Focus on Climate Solutions and Economics

ELPC’s Howard Learner participated in this week’s National Journal Energy Experts blog which asks how the climate change debate should be shifted.

Available at:

Rethinking the Global Warming Debate

Should Washington and the rest of the country find a new way to debate climate change in a way that’s more conducive to action?

The few times global warming comes up at all in Washington right now, it provokes a fractured, polarized and partisan conversation. At the mere academic talk of a carbon tax, Republicans immediately push measures blocking its consideration in Congress. Democrats take to the floor of both chambers regularly to talk about climate change. Rarely if ever do the political parties actually talk to each other about this issue.

In the wake of the Oklahoma disaster last week, climate experts seemed split on whether a debate should be had about whether global warming caused the tornado. Is continually linking global warming to extreme weather a helpful component to the overall debate, or not?

How, if at all, could the global warming debate be changed in order to produce more action? Is this effort all for naught as long as many Republicans deny the scientific consensus that humans’ consumption of fossil fuels is causing global warming? Should President Obama take more of a leadership role in changing this debate?

Focus on Climate Solutions and Economics

By Howard A. Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Better environmental protection can achieve economic benefits, not just cause costs. The debate on mitigating climate change has overly focused on the latter. It’s time to squarely address some important economic benefits.

First, risk mitigation. America’s leading scientists are explaining the causal connections between climate change and the acceleration of extreme weather events that impose enormous economic costs and human costs. Reducing carbon pollution mitigates climate change and reduces risk. People buy homeowners’ and life insurance to mitigate risk, not because they think that their house will necessarily burn down and that they’ll die in the next year. Some policymakers claim to be less persuaded by the scientific consensus on climate change. Is mitigating the risks of more intense and more frequent hurricanes and tornadoes a common sense economic approach that can gain more political support?

Second, advance America’s global economic competitiveness with clean technology solutionsWind power and solar energy are the world’s fastest growing energy resources. Cleaner, more fuel efficient cars, buses, trucks and trains arebeing produced by competing manufacturers in North America, Asia and Europe. Battery technology improvements can be game-changers for both the energy and transportation sectors. All of these technological innovations reduce carbon pollution. As global businesses and nations move forward, America should want our technological innovations to be winning in the competitive economic markets. These global economic growth solutions are also climate change solutions.

Third, American leadership. The United States is the global leader. With that leadership comes responsibility. Why should America act before India does so? Because leaders step up and lead when it comes to solving community problems. Solving our global climate change problems is the moral, economic, political, policy and technological challenge of our generation. America can and must step up to lead the way to global climate change solutions.

Finally, getting more serious about more energy efficiency is a no-brainer. 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, and reduce pollution. There is a “quiet revolution” taking place through technological advances in more efficient lighting, heating and cooling, appliances, pumps and motors. Saving energy saves consumers money. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner air and water for all. Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?

These approaches combine environmental progress and economic growth. They help frame the climate change debate with solutions that can gain broader support.

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

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.

Howard Learner Op/Ed on

ELPC Executive Director Howard A. Learner takes a look at the state of the green economy in Michigan in a guest column published at

Wind and solar development create manufacturing and technical jobs, rural economic development and pollution-free energy. The Environmental Law & Policy Center’sSolar and Wind Energy Supply Chain report shows that Michigan is home to 241 clean energy technology supply chain businesses and 10,000 related jobs.

Michigan is a solar business leader with companies including Patriot Solar Group (Albion), which manufactures trackers for solar panel installations, and Hemlock Semiconductor(Hemlock), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of polycrystalline silicon for solar cells and modules. Some of Michigan’s old-line manufacturing companies like Dowding Industries – Astraeus Wind Energy (Eaton Rapids) are re-tooling to supply growing markets for clean energy equipment.

Read the editorial 

This Earth Day: Jobs, Environment and Economic Growth Together

Earth Day 1970 sounded an alarm.  It launched the modern environmental movement, bringing cleaner air that’s healthier to breathe, cleaner water that’s safer to drink and enjoy for recreation, and fewer dangerous toxics in our communities. Today, the growing green economy is helping to drive the Midwest’s and our nation’s economic recovery.  Energy efficient equipment and appliances, wind and solar energy development, cleaner more fuel efficient cars and modern high-performance rail development are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

Nonetheless, some defensive polluters and politicized critics are hauling out the old, false myth that we must choose between job creation and environmental progress.  That wasn’t true 42 years ago, and it isn’t true today.  Nor do most people believe in that canard.  Let’s look at the facts and progress of innovative clean technologies in the Midwest.

Energy Efficiency Improvements are creating jobs, saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, and reducing pollution.  Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Shaw Group and Sieben Energy Associates are among the many energy efficiency businesses employing thousands of skilled workers retrofitting schools, hospitals, homes and commercial, industrial and governmental buildings.  Saving energy saves consumers money and keeps money in the Midwest regional economy.  Less pollution means better public health and cleaner lakes and rivers for all.  Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?

Wind and Solar Energy Development create manufacturing and technical jobs, rural economic development and pollution-free energy.  The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Wind and Solar Supply Chain reports show that :

  • Illinois is home to more than 300 wind, solar and geothermal supply chain businesses and 18,000 related jobs
  • Iowa is home to more than 80 wind supply chain businesses and 2,300 manufacturing jobs, alone.
  • Michigan is home to more than 241 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 10,000 related jobs.
  • Ohio is home to more than 169 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 9,000 related jobs.
  • Wisconsin is home to more than 250 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 12,000 related jobs.

Chicago is home to the headquarters of 13 major wind power companies, making “the Windy City” a global wind industry hub. Old-line manufacturing companies including Brad Foote Gear Works (Cicero, IL), Dowding Industries – Astraeus Wind Energy (Eaton Rapids, MI), A. Lucas & Sons Steel (Peoria, IL), S&C Electric (Chicago, IL), Timken (Canton, OH) and Broadwind – Tower Tech (Manitowoc, WI) are re-tooling to supply growing markets for clean energy equipment.  Iowa is the nation’s #2 state for installed wind power, and Illinois was the nation’s #2 state for new wind power development in 2011.  Wind power is the fastest growing global energy source.  Midwest politicians must get the policy framework right to keep advancing our region’s clean energy economy leadership.

Cleaner, More Efficient Cars and Trucks save us money at the gas pump, cutback air pollution, improve national security by making our country less dependent on foreign oil, and keep money in the Midwest states’ economies rather than drain dollars to the Middle East, Venezuela and oil-producing states.  The Obama Administration’s leadership in stabilizing and modernizing the American auto industry is a true success story, which is especially important for the Midwest with its high percentage of auto-related manufacturing jobs.  Look at just Illinois:  Ford is now adding 1,100 new jobs at its Chicago assembly plant, Chrysler is adding 1,800 new jobs at its Belvedere plant, and Mitsubishi Motors is investing at its Normal plant and promoting electric vehicles.  Automakers and parts suppliers in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are reviving, and there are new advanced battery manufacturers, especially in Michigan.

The federal clean car standards will increase fuel economy to a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.  That will save trillions of dollars for America’s economy, create jobs for Americans building the cleaner cars for the future, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  This is a smart solution.

High-Speed Rail Development is on track across Illinois with leadership from Democratic Governor Quinn and across Michigan with leadership from Republican Governor Snyder. High-performance rail improves mobility, creates jobs and spurs economic growth, and reduces pollution. Supply chain businesses across the Midwest will be manufacturing equipment for high-speed rail projects.   Wisconsin Governor Walker’s decision to reject $810 million of federal high-speed rail funds and Ohio Governor Kasich’s decision to reject $400 million are missed opportunities, which we hope can be reversed in the future.

Modern, fast, comfortable and convenient trains connecting Chicago to Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis and to Cleveland, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Madison, Minneapolis-St. Paul and other Midwestern cities is an important third transportation option to highway congestion with higher gas prices and rising airfares with fewer flights.  This is a sensible solution for our future.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recent report shows that 3.1 million people hold jobs in green goods and services. Close to 500,000 jobs are in manufacturing, 370,000 in construction and 349,000 in professional, scientific and technical services.  That’s progress.

We will soon be overwhelmed by 30-second political attack ads from all sides.  Let’s separate sound solutions from the sound bites.   We are achieving job creation, economic growth and better environmental quality together.  That’s what the public wants and it’s happening.

ELPC works in Chicago to advance clean energy solutions and clean up old-technology coal plants to make the city a greener place to live and work. Our work includes:

Implementing the Chicago Climate Action Plan’s Clean and Renewable Energy Goals

Hosting the Annual “Growing the Green Economy” Conference

Fighting Pollution from the Aging Fisk and Crawford Coal Plants

Implementing the Chicago Climate Action Plan’s Clean and Renewable Energy Goals

The 2008 Chicago Climate Action Plan established a goal of reducing Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020.  Developing new sources of clean and renewable energy will be a big part of the plan’s implementation, and ELPC has played a key role shaping the strategy.

At the request of Mayor Daley, ELPC and the City of Chicago Department of Environment co-chaired a working group comprised of clean energy business executives, entrepreneurs, academics, finance experts, government and utility representatives.  Working with this group, ELPC developed a set of policy and program recommendations that, if implemented, will set the city on a path to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals and ancillary objectives such as economic development and job creation.

The Clean and Renewable Policy and Program Recommendations Report is now complete.  Recommendations are organized along two tracks with elements addressing: (1) policy advocacy objectives, with a primary goal of greening the grid through full implementation of the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, and (2) local program development at the city level, aimed at increasing distributed generation in Chicago.  Stay tuned for an announcement about a press conference with Mayor Daley to formally release the report and present the implementation plan.

Hosting the Annual “Growing the Green Economy” Conference

ELPC regularly co-sponsors the “Growing the Green Economy” conference with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.  In previous years, more than 125 industry leaders have gathered to discuss what it will take to make Chicago’s and the Midwest’s clean energy opportunity a reality, best practices and how to attract and support clean energy businesses in today’s economy.

Fighting Pollution from Aging Coal Plants

Despite advances in renewable energy, the nation still depends on coal plants for more than half of its electricity. Coal combustion produces smog, soot, acid rain, the neurotoxin mercury, and is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, a leading cause of global warming.

A loophole in the Clean Air Act has allowed existing power plants to avoid installing modern pollution controls. ELPC is working with numerous environmental groups, state governments and others to require aging coal-fired power plants to install these modern technologies.

In Chicago, we are working to reduce pollution from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants, as well as other plants owned by Midwest Generation. ELPC is actively working with Chicago Alderman Joe Moore and a coalition of business and community groups to advocate for the passage of a City ordinance that would significantly reduce soot and greenhouse gas pollution from Chicago’s coal plants. The Clean Power Ordinance would make Chicago the first city in the nation to regulate pollution from coal plants.

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

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