Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker voiced full-throated support late Friday to a new version of clean-energy legislation that tightens the screws on high-polluting, downstate coal power plants.
Under the proposal, carbon-emission reductions of 100 percent would be required at the Prairie State Energy Campus facility near St. Louis and a municipally-owned coal plant in Springfield by 2045, or they would face closure.
Additionally, those facilities would have to reduce their carbon footprints by 45 percent by 2035.
Pritzker’s office released details of the proposal, which had not been filed as of 9 p.m. Friday, and said the first-term Democrat up for re-election next year “strongly supports” the measure.
“We know our planet cannot afford to wait more than two decades before significant progress at reducing carbon emissions is made, and this bill is a reasonable path forward,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “The administration looks forward to continuing discussions with our partners in the House.”
The Prairie State Energy Campus facility is located southeast of St. Louis and supplies power to several Illinois communities, including Naperville, Winnetka and Batavia, among others.
Its fate is the linchpin to a sprawling energy measure that is expected to raise electricity rates by nearly $700 million to stave off the possible closure of at least two of Exelon’s nuclear power plants later this year.
Those nuclear plants represent a key piece of the Pritzker administration’s strategy to wean Illinois from carbon-emitting fossil fuels, which are the primary cause of global warming and extreme weather events sweeping the world. Exelon has warned that it will begin the process of closing its Byron facility on Sept. 13, unless the state intervenes.
After months of deadlock, the Democratic-led state Senate this week passed an energy package that Pritzker had earlier threatened to veto. It contained a provision requiring Prairie State, one of the nation’s leading air polluters, to shut down by 2045 but contained no requirements to reduce carbon emissions before then.
Under that scenario, Pritzker complained, that plant and a municipally-owned coal plant in Springfield could continue fouling the air for nearly a quarter century, ignoring the urgency to reduce Illinois’ carbon emissions in any meaningful way.
It’s not clear whether Friday night’s House amendment will be what ultimately gets voted on in the chamber or even whether enough support exists there, particularly since passage hinges on lining up a three-fifths supermajority of votes.
Two core Democratic constituencies — organized labor and environmental groups — have been at loggerheads for months about how the energy bill should be structured, and it isn’t certain both sides are in lockstep on what emerged Friday night.
Labor was silent, but a coalition of environmental organizations expressed support.
“Today, Illinois took another step toward an equitable clean energy future for all with the introduction of SB1751, House Amendment 1, which will take action on climate, protect communities from pollution and launch a generation of new, good-paying jobs that lift up those who need it most,” the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition said in a statement.
The House hasn’t made clear when it is returning to Springfield, which has to happen in order for there to be a vote on the package. However, a House committee hearing for next Thursday was scheduled to consider the Senate-passed version of the energy bill.
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch has put three of his top lieutenants — state Reps. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago; Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston; and Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea — as his point people in shaping the House response to the Senate’s energy vote.
Late Friday, Welch, D-Hillside, stopped short of endorsing the new House alternative, stressing his legislative chamber will soon have two fully developed energy concepts to consider.
“I am confident Leaders Evans, Gabel and Hoffman will continue to facilitate collaboration between all stakeholders and caucus members now that we have two proposals in bill language, and the House stands ready to act when consensus is reached,” Welch said in a statement.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.
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September 3, 2021 at 10:35PM