The Climate Crisis: A Plea and a Path Forward

An Open Letter to Governor J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Lawmakers

See it published by The Chicago Tribune

A growing number of states are adopting sweeping new climate legislation that will result in eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by or before 2050. These states are California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington and New York. Political leaders in these states realize that because of the devastating impacts of climate change they must transform their entire economies to pollution-free renewable energy as soon as possible. 

Unfortunately, Illinois lags behind with only 8% of our electric energy coming from renewable sources and a goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. As our new Governor, we know you understand that this is a major shortfall in prior political leadership in Illinois. The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Special Report states that we have just 10 years to reduce our carbon emissions by 45% to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global climate change. Recently, climate scien- tists announced that we must reduce our global carbon emissions by 7.6% every year for the next ten years to achieve the necessary reduced emissions targets. 

Given the magnitude of the problem, piecemeal efforts will not achieve the critical goals. We therefore ask for your leadership in developing an ambitious, holistic, and comprehensive plan for Illinois to reduce our carbon emissions while transitioning to renewable energy. 

The following summarizes the key components of such a holistic plan: 

Pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This legislation will put Illinois on a path to electrifying the transportation sector, reducing our energy consumption, and will be an important first step in enabling our state to be powered with 100% renewable energy by 2050. It will also create thousands of new, well-paying jobs, particularly in disadvantaged communities. With your help, this legislation must be passed in this session of the legislature. We now have an added incentive to do so as a result of President Trump’s recent decision to increase renewable energy pricing on the Federal grid and provide a financial bailout to fossil fuels. As you know, CEJA contains a provision that allows Illinois to establish its own grid; this will enable Illinois to bypass these punitive price increases on renewable energy and nuclear power. 

Stop all further development of oil/gas pipelines in Illinois. Energy Transfer Partners has recently requested that the Illinois Commerce Commission, ICC, approve two new pumping stations that would allow double the volume of oil transported through existing pipelines. This means more risk of spills across Illinois land and waterways while promoting the sale of more fossil fuels that must be kept in the ground. We need policy to make clear that Illinois is not supportive of any further fossil fuel development. 

Divest fossil fuel holdings from our Illinois State Pension Plans. 350.org asserts that it is “a moral imperative” to divest from the dirty energy that is significantly degrading the climate, and to reinvest in climate solutions. Further, fossil fuel divestment is good investment strategy. Funds will benefit by switching from assets that will inevitably remain locked underground for new, state-of-the-art industries and technologies. 

De-carbonize using Illinois natural resources. We can ensure funding for our struggling forest preserves in Illinois which represent significant carbon sinks. According to the 2018 Illinois Forest Action Plan, Illinois forests sequester 343 million tons of carbon. Here in Cook County alone, we have 356 locations totaling 70 thousand acres of forest and wetland preserves that play an important role in decarbonization. And there are 16 such county preserves in Illinois. Investments in regenerative farming to ensure we take advantage of our vast agriculture acreage in Illinois is a great opportunity for us. The 2018 IPCC report states that our natural resources well managed can sequester 15 to 20% of our annual emissions. 

Establish a timetable to transition Illinois off nuclear power. We presently have 11 nuclear reactors operating in Illinois providing 52% of our electric energy. These reactors initially had a 40-year life expectancy. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, increased that life expectancy by 20 years. Half of these reactors are now in the expanded life expectancy stage. Maintenance costs continue to increase every year — a major reason why nuclear power is no longer cost competitive with renewable sources of energy. These aging reactors have also become more prone to serious failures as they get older, while at the same time they create more nuclear waste. The cost to replace these reactors is exorbitant (about $10 billion each) and it requires 12 to 15 years to bring one to market. Existing nuclear plants will of necessity be used to provide energy as we increase the renewable energy infrastructure. But we should not spend one more public dollar to maintain these plants for Exelon. The public deserves a logical timetable to phase them out one by one as they become less safe and as we have the renewable sources made available for Illinois. 

Pass the referendum for a Fair Tax in 2020. We are grateful for your leadership on moving the Fair Tax initiative and strongly support you in making this a top priority for Illinois. It takes substantial financial resources to implement and sustain a comprehensive renewable energy strategy. Passage of this Fair Tax Initiative will bring $3.4 billion dollars annually to Illinois, which will help fund our energy transformation. 

These collective actions would accelerate our transition to renewable sources of energy and reduce our annual emissions sooner rather than later. Piecemeal actions will not protect current and future generations from an increasingly storm-ridden, flood-and fire-prone world. With political will, Illinois can become a leader in addressing our climate crisis, a model for other states, and demonstrate accountable governing. We are all in this together, and look forward to working with you to make it happen. Thank you for your leadership. 

Sincerely,