With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency this November, many on the left are rightfully frightened about what the next four years portend for the fight against climate change, when even the most basic environmental protections are now under threat. The sense of dread deepens everyday, as we get news of a new climate denier or oil executive being considered for a cabinet post. Many are preparing for years of long, defensive fights to preserve what policies we have won, both on environmental protection and on every other front.
This week in Illinois, we had a welcome break from this depressing trend.
On Thursday night, the Illinois General Assembly voted to approve the Future Energy Jobs Package, a bill which would more than double renewable energy generation in the state and allow Illinois to become a leader in creating green jobs, including low income solar jobs, and energy efficiency.
This victory comes as a result of the hard work of People’s Action affiliates: The People’s Lobby, Illinois People’s Action and ONE Northside, who have come together through the Fair Economy Illinois (FEI) Coalition to push for the most racially and economically just energy policies in Illinois history.
The bill contains language, much of which was originally proposed by FEI leaders, that will invest at least $500,000,000 in new and targeted low-income solar programs, low-income energy efficiency programs, job training for work in the solar industry, as well as community solar programs. It will move badly needed resources into areas suffering from decades of disinvestment and pollution from coal-fired power plants. At the same time, it will make solar energy more accessible to all. This provision was particularly hard fought for.
Over the past year and half, FEI leaders have met with legislators, held lobby days, rallies, and phone banks to cement these changes and to prevent attempts by big utilities and dirty energy companies to ram through a coal company bailout and extremely regressive residential demand charges. If passed, those proposals would have amounted to the largest rate hike in US history, and we are proud to have stopped them.
Our hard work over the last year for real solutions led to the passage of a bill that will create 3,000 MW of new solar generation and 1,300 MW of new wind generation by 2025 in Illinois. Statutory language mandates new construction of solar and wind in Illinois rather than just allowing utilities to purchase renewable energy from out of state, thus creating thousands of new green jobs in Illinois. It also provides funding for the creation of community solar programs throughout Illinois, allowing folks to participate and share ownership of solar energy generation even if they rent or otherwise can’t afford the still often prohibitive price of installation of rooftop solar.
Our communities have been promised jobs and investment by industry after industry and agency after agency, often resulting in little to nothing in terms of quality jobs or job training. As a result, we now live in a state with four of the ten worst cities for African-Americans in the country, where the interests of working people, especially working people of color, are put behind those of big corporations and the 1% in every area from education, to health, to taxation to energy. This law, if implemented correctly, will ensure those promises are delivered on. For the first time in Illinois, low-income people and people of color, who suffer the brunt of a rigged economy, a planet in crisis and budget cuts, will finally have a real stake in the new, clean energy economy. It is a major, if incomplete and imperfect, step forward in our fight for racial, economic and climate justice.
The legislative leadership mandated a compromise in the bill that included a bailout for two of the state’s ailing nuclear power plants. We fought successfully to reduce the size of the bailouts and insure ratepayers would not be negatively impacted. This was a win given the current political climate. Up against some of the most powerful corporations in Illinois, our on-the-ground organizing allowed us to build the power needed to truly make change happen for our communities.
While concessions were made, the wins are much bigger. The level of investment in energy efficiency and green energy along with the thousands of new green jobs that will come with it is a huge step forward for Illinois. It will set a precedent for other states on how to increase energy efficiency and renewables in a progressive way in which the environment and jobs are prioritized over corporate greed. The false dichotomy that exists between taking care of our environment and the creation of jobs is shattered through this win, and that’s a huge step forward. These victories will boost renewable energy in Illinois after half a decade of stagnant growth, allowing our state to finally become a leader in developing clean energy and green jobs for all our people.
Our victory in this fight proves that we can still win, and win big, even in the age of Trump, if we build grassroots, people power around a bold vision. We need not cower in the corner if we organize ordinary people to name, claim and fight for the kind of world we know we deserve. This is not just our victory but a tremendous and urgently needed win for our children, our grandchildren and seven generations to come.
During these hardest of times, we need to resist, organize and fight for the eventual reversal of the many regressive laws and policies that the Republicans and Trump administration will pass in the next 4 years. But climate change will not wait for a change in administration. The impact of climate change that we witness daily will only get worse unless we organize in our communities to take action, enter into coalitions and keep our eyes on the prize. That is what we did and will continue to do here in Illinois.
It was not an easy win but one made possible by our clarity about the fact that it is possible and necessary to build a world where people and planet come first. It is only through getting everyday people to fight for that vision that we will overcome the present and coming injustices. Wherever you might be, we hope you’ll join us.