After Pope Francis called for climate action in an encyclical on the environment last week, local faith leaders and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins say Illinois lawmakers could help carry out the pope's message by approving a pending clean energy bill.
The Illinois legislature should heed Pope Francis' call for climate action and pass pending legislation designed to strengthen statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy, faith leaders and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) said Monday.
Speaking at the Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago's West Loop, the Rev. Booker Steven Vance, policy director at Faith in Place, said the pope's encyclical on the environment last week "raises the urgency" for passage of the proposed Illinois Clean Jobs bill.
If approved, the Illinois Clean Jobs bill "can embrace and carry out traditions" to protect the environment and the most vulnerable, Vance said.
"We hope that Illinois leaders will take note from the pope's message that without action, climate change will hurt most of those who can least afford it," he added.
In his encyclical, which is a papal message sent to all of the bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, Francis said climate change is mainly the result of human activity and it "represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day."
The pope, who called for fossil fuels to be "progressively replaced without delay," noted that poor nations will be impacted the most by the effects of climate change.
He said developing countries need to do more to curb Earth-warming pollution.
"The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programs of sustainable development," he wrote.
The crux of the pope's message "is that ecology and social justice go hand in hand," explained Collins, a Senate co-sponsor of the Illinois Clean Jobs bill.
"Around the globe, people are asking how can they carry out the pope's message? In Illinois, we have the answer," Collins said. "We can pass the Illinois Clean Jobs bill."
Under the clean jobs legislation, spearheaded in the legislature by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), the state's 2025 energy efficiency target would increase. Specifically, the reduction target for electricity consumption in Illinois would be bumped up to 20 percent from the current goal of 13 percent by the year 2025.
At the same time, the legislation (HB 2607 and SB 1485) seeks changes to the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to boost the share of power that Illinois gets from naturally renewable sources, including wind and solar, to 35 percent by 2030. Currently, the RPS requires the state to obtain at least 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Combined, these reforms would result in the annual creation of 32,000 new jobs in the state after their implementation, proponents say. The Citizens Utility Board estimates that the bill, if approved, would result in cumulative customer savings of $1.6 billion by 2030.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, comprised of environmental and business groups as well as elected officials, backs the pending legislation.
In addition to the clean jobs bill, there are two other energy-related proposals under consideration in Springfield, including one being pushed by Exelon and another by ComEd. Springfield legislators have been focused on state budget issues and, as a result, they put off consideration of new energy legislation during the legislative session that ended May 31.
State lawmakers are currently in a special overtime session in an effort to break through the current budget impasse between Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Collins said it's not clear when the Illinois Clean Jobs bill could come up for a vote in either chamber.
"I would hope that by the end of the summer [the Illinois Clean Jobs bill would get a vote], but I think right now the main concern is the budget," she said. "I don't think anything is going to take priority over the budget at this point."
The pope's encyclical and calls for passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs bill come as U.S. states await the Environmental Protection Agency's finalized "Clean Power Plan."
EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan -- which looks to slash carbon emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 -- is expected to be finalized by mid-summer, according to the agency. States are given flexibility under the EPA's proposed regulations to meet carbon standards.
Illinois has an EPA target of reducing power-plant carbon emissions by 33 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. After the EPA issues its finalized regulations for existing power plants, states would be required to turn in implementation plans by the following year.
The Chicago-based nuclear giant Exelon maintains that its low-emission nuclear plants will be central to Illinois' compliance with the new EPA carbon rules.
Exelon has warned that three of its six Illinois nuclear plants are struggling financially, and the company might have to shut them down prematurely if state measures are not put in place to help boost the supposedly unprofitable facilities.
If the plants close, the company argues that Illinois would have a hard time complying with the carbon reduction goal set by the EPA.
Members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition take issue with that argument. They contend that the state could be in a very good position to hit its EPA target through increased energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts.
"It is our expectation that we can actually meet and exceed that goal through the consumer savings and benefits that we'd see through increased efficiency and more renewable energy on the grid, but once we see a final plan, we'll be able to make that determination," said Nick Magrisso, policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "And it's without question that the more we invest in clean energy, the easier it will be for the state to comply."