Preckwinkle: Illinois Legislature has a chance to create green energy jobs where they’re needed most

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Pollution is an “issue of equity,” with “communties of color” historically getting hit hardest, writes Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Sun-Times Media

The Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act represents a step in the right direction for our planet, and could be a corrective to decades of racists wrongs by government.

We are all impacted by the effects of climate change. Our basements are flooding, droughts kill our crops and people are dying in heat waves.

But we are not all impacted equally.

Like so many of the other challenges we face, communities of color in Cook County and all over the country are continually hit the hardest. People already disproportionately burdened by a lack of access to jobs, healthcare and education also shoulder the heaviest burdens of climate change. Climate change is not only an environmental issue — it’s an issue of equity, as well.

Pollution is an issue of equity.

Access to clean water is an issue of equity.

The Guardian reported on a national study from 2019 that found white people experience about 17% less air pollution exposure than what is created by their consumption. Conversely, Black people inhale 56% and Latinx people 63% more than the pollution they generate.

And when it comes to clean water, there are, unfortunately, too many examples to list, but I will highlight two: Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water. That is criminal. And Centreville, a majority African-American town in Southern Illinois, regularly floods with sewage, though residents have for decades begged local and state authorities to address the town’s water infrastructure.

The urgency to address climate change is crystal clear, and we must give priority to communities devastated by industrial pollution in that legislation. Luckily, at this very moment, our colleagues in the Illinois Legislature have the opportunity to act.

I am proud to support the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act that is now being debated on the state level. This critical piece of legislation will help create jobs and ensure there is a just transition to the new green economy for Cook County and the State of Illinois. Doing so will not only be a step in the right direction for our planet, but also go a long way toward righting the wrongs of history on the part of government in this arena.

Take, for example, the fossil fuel industry. Due to decades of racist government policies, throughout the nation, communities of color have borne the brunt of pollution from the old fossil fuel economy. These same residents have also been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless we make bold, drastic change, history is warning us that these same communities will bear the burden of every future crisis we face.

We cannot stand by and let this happen.

Cook County its part and has long recognized the need for improved air quality. We are phasing out the use of fossil fuels to create electricity by transitioning to community solar. Community solar allows renters, low-income residents and people without access to capital to tap into the numerous benefits of renewable energy.

Cook County also is helping our business community join the fight against climate change. We recently launched our Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, or C-PACE program, which will help businesses access lower cost financing for clean energy, water efficiency and resiliency projects.

For Wilder Fields, a hydroponic farm in the south suburbs, this financing will help them turn a long-vacant building into a thriving business that provides fresh produce — without the need for pesticides or other industrial pollutants.

While we’re proud of these efforts, we cannot do this alone. We need partners on every level of government to step up and do their part as well.

The Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act’s broad and deep support for clean energy and energy efficiency is just the kind of response we need from state government to address these issues at the scale we need to meet this moment.

CEJA will directly help the most impacted communities by improving air quality and getting people back to work in jobs that pay living wages and support the new clean energy economy. CEJA also creates pathways for BIPOC businesses — those controlled by Black, Indigenous and people of color — to grow and thrive in these very same communities.

CEJA prioritizes equity by expanding programs for installing solar to low-income and environmental justice-impacted communities. CEJA also would strengthen the state’s financial commitment to community solar.

We can’t keep relying on our children and our grandchildren to fight climate change on our behalf. And we can’t let those already struggling the most continue to carry the largest burden.

We must act now.

For our children.

Our grandchildren.

And their grandchildren.

That is why I am proud to endorse the Clean Energy Jobs Act. I encourage you to call your legislators and echo your support for CEJA.

When I look out at Jackson Park and Lake Michigan, I know exactly what infrastructure we need to protect. Let’s keep Cook County green. Let’s keep Lake Michigan blue. CEJA can’t wait.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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May 12, 2021 at 08:36AM

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