THE BLOG

Climate Change Solutions That Advance Illinois' Economy and Environment Together

03/11/2013 10:42 am ET | Updated May 11, 2013
  • Howard Learner Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

President Barack Obama emphasized advancing climate change and clean energy solutions as a second-term priority. Illinois' energy and transportation sectors are the center of the nation's problems, but can be the largest part of solutions.

Let's recognize Chicago's and Illinois' progress on achieving positive climate change solutions with clean technologies that are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for our environment. Let's seize the opportunities for more progress.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Energy efficiency improvements create jobs, save businesses and people money on their utility bills, keep money in Illinois' economy, and reduce pollution.Seizing these opportunities is a no-brainer.

Illinois' Energy Efficiency Performance Standards drive $500 million in incentives leveraging large-scale HVAC and lighting upgrades and other new efficiency strategies across sectors. The City's Retrofit Chicago program is accelerating energy-efficiency improvements for public, residential and commercial buildings. This month, Retrofit Chicago doubled its Commercial Buildings Initiative -- up to 28 million square feet and 32 buildings.

Next: Full speed ahead with both "tried and true" energy efficiency programs and innovative initiatives that push the envelope.

Saving energy saves consumers money. 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?

Coal Plants emit huge amounts of carbon pollution. Progress: The old, highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods were recently shut down, and Chicago's aggregated electricity supply procurement contract has "no coal."

Next: More Chicago-area municipalities should replicate "no coal" in their electricity procurement contracts, and businesses touting sustainability should "buy more green, not brown" power to spur Illinois' wind and solar power development. Midwest Generation, which burns Wyoming coal at its nine northern Illinois coal plants, has filed for bankruptcy because its plants aren't economic in the Midwest's competitive electricity market. Don't use the public's funds to bail them out.

Wind and Solar Energy Development drive new manufacturing and technical jobs, economic growth and pollution-free energy. Illinois is one of the leading states for wind power generation and home to 300 wind and solar supply-chain businesses and 18,000 related jobs. Chicago has 13 major wind power corporate headquarters and hosts the American Wind Energy Association's annual convention in May. Chicago is a global wind power industry hub. That's progress.

Next: Illinois' legislators should update the statutory Renewable Energy Standards, which were based on Commonwealth Edison's and Ameren's power supply purchases before all of the municipal electricity aggregations. These adjustments are needed to spur wind power and solar energy development in Illinois. Illinois' manufacturers also benefit when the state's Congressional delegation prioritizes extending the stop-start federal protection tax credit for wind power.

Chicago's SunShot program is focusing on removing barriers to rooftop solar development as technological innovation drives down panel costs. There are emerging opportunities to convert underutilized industrial brownfields into solar brightfields. Our political leaders must get the policies right to keep advancing Illinois' renewable energy economy leadership.

Cleaner, More Efficient Cars and Trucks 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 fleet-wide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. President Obama achieved that big modernization step forward during his first term.

Next: Chicago, Cook County, Ill., and business fleets should purchase more clean electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles. Transit agencies: Keep going. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors: How about building more clean cars of the future at your Illinois manufacturing 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 businesses in the rail equipment supply chain, including Nippon Sharyo assembling 130 new railcars in Rochelle. President Obama identifies accelerating high-speed rail development as his No. 1 transportation priority. His plan provides for passenger rail access connecting 80 percent of Americans by 2035 and creating capacity for national growth for our future.

Modern, fast, comfortable and convenient rail service connecting Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and other Midwest major cities and mid-sized cities and rural centers in-between, is an important third transportation alternative to highway congestion with higher gas prices and rising air fares with fewer flights to fewer cities using smaller airplanes.

Next: Developing the modern, sensible Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network requires federal transportation funds and a modernized Union Station to maximize future benefits. Mayor Emanuel and Governor Quinn should lead together and prioritize transforming the region's rail transportation infrastructure for the region.

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.

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