Governor Quinn Should Seize the Opportunity to Put 7,200 More Illinoisans to Work in Clean Energy

On May 16, a coalition of companies including Starbucks, the Gap, Levis, Jones Lange LaSalle, Ikea and Nike wrote to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn urging him to, “seize the economic opportunity embedded in addressing climate change.”  They explained that “the health of our economy depends on our ability to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us.” 

These companies are part of a growing chorus of business leaders who know that America is at its best when it faces challenges head-on, that ignoring climate change is costing us billions every year that we can’t afford, and that putting people to work on solutions is both the right thing to do for future generations, and the best way to grow our economy. 

One of the opportunities the companies cited for Governor Quinn is a draft rule that U.S. EPA is expected to publish on June 2.  Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is obligated to regulate carbon from the electric power plants which are responsible for 40 percent of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.  The draft rule will be implemented through state plans that will be submitted two years from now.  It is through these state plans that Illinois policy makers have an opportunity to seize the opportunity to build a clean, safe, reliable, affordable electric power system and lead the nation in tackling the challenges posed by climate change. 

Illinois has already laid the foundation for a shift to clean energy.  In fact, 96,000 Illinoisans are already working in the clean energy industry – building, installing, operating and designing wind, solar and energy efficiency projects.   With the energy efficiency and renewable energy policies already on the books we can reduce our carbon emissions by more than 20 percent over the coming decade.  By ramping up these clean energy policies to maximize the potential for renewable energy and efficiency, and combining them with other improvements in the way power plants generate and transmit power, we can cut dangerous carbon emissions by one-third while maintaining a reliable and affordable electric system and creating thousands of new jobs in the state.

NRDC asked ICF International, a consulting firm that often works for the electric power industry, to take a close look at how the EPA carbon rules would affect electric bills and jobs across the nation and in Illinois.  The findings are very encouraging:    

  • IFC estimates that Illinois can reduce carbon emissions by 33 million tons (roughly one-third), put 7,200 more Illinoisans to work in the energy efficiency business, and thereby reduce our total electric bill by about $800 million per year (or $5.80 per month for every household). 
  • Nationwide, EPA can cut carbon pollution by 29 percent by 2020, and 38 percent by 2025, while creating an estimated 274,000 new jobs in energy efficiency, and cutting the nation’s electric bill by $37 billion per year.

Over the coming days, we will all hear plenty of alarmist rants from the fossil fuel industry and the front groups they fund, desperate to maintain its stranglehold on the electric system it has dominated for more than a century.  They will argue that addressing climate change will mean blackouts, skyrocketing bills and the end of modern civilization.  They will urge America to shrink from both the responsibility and the opportunity in front of us. 

On the contrary, EPA’s rules won’t mean the end of coal, or the end of civilization -- far from it.  Instead, these rules will create a much-needed shift to a cleaner electric system that relies less on coal and more on low and zero-emitting sources of power.  This creates room for a new energy economy to thrive in Illinois, with good paying local jobs for our workforce, cleaner air, and lower power bills.  It’s time to seize this enormous opportunity.