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CAPITOL RECAP: General Assembly sends energy bill to Pritzker

CAPITOL RECAP: General Assembly sends energy bill to Pritzker

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate put the final legislative stamp on an energy regulation overhaul bill Monday, sending it to Gov. JB Pritzker, who says he will sign it.

It’s the culmination of years of negotiation, and it marks a policy win on one of Pritzker’s biggest outstanding first-term campaign promises as the 2022 campaign heats up. The measure passed by a 37-17 vote, with Republicans Sue Rezin, of Morris, and John Curran, of Downers Grove, joining Democrats in support.

“After years of debate and discussion, science has prevailed, and we are charting a new future that works to mitigate the impacts of climate change here in Illinois,” Pritzker said in a statement after the bill’s Senate passage. “(Senate Bill) 2408 puts the state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy and invests in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future. Illinois will become the best state in the nation to manufacture and drive an electric vehicle, and equity will be prioritized in every new program created.”

The final proposal forces fossil fuel plants offline by 2045, spends billions of dollars to subsidize renewable and nuclear energy to prevent plant closures, incentivizes the adoption of electric vehicles, funds workforce training programs, and requires union labor on the installation of renewable infrastructure.

Advocates hailed it as a nation-leading climate bill, while downstate Republicans warned of its impact on consumer bills and energy grid reliability.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said it sets the state on an “aggressive and progressive” path toward decarbonization and renewable energy adoption, while leaving pathways for future General Assemblies to reassess the state’s energy needs through follow-up legislation.

The measure, Senate Bill 2408, aims to put Illinois on a path to a carbon-free energy future by 2050 by doubling the state’s ratepayer investment in renewable energy and further subsidizing the state’s nuclear fleet. It aims to increase the portion of the state’s energy produced by renewables from less than 8 percent to 40 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040.

The main provision in the bill that would push the state toward those ambitious goals is a massive increase of more than $350 million annually to the pot of money funding renewable projects. It also provides that more than $300 million already collected for renewables will be spent for such projects instead of being refunded to ratepayers despite previous deadlines having passed.

The bill also provides $694 million in total over a five-year period to subsidize three nuclear plants owned by Exelon Corporation, preventing the closure of a plant in Byron that Exelon said it would take offline Monday in the absence of legislative action. It issued a statement after the bill’s passage saying it would begin the refueling process.

Other expenditures include a $180 million annual investment in equity-based and “just transition” programs aiming to diversify the renewable industry and to provide out-of-work fossil fuel employees with a pathway to renewable energy jobs.

* * *

ETHICS BILL PASSES: The Illinois House on Thursday, Sept. 9, voted to accept changes to an ethics bill that Gov. JB Pritzker had requested, paving the way for it to become law once the governor signs it

Thursday’s vote came a little more than a week after an earlier attempt fell short in the House. That happened during a late-night session Tuesday, Aug. 31, after many Democrats had left the Capitol following a one-day special session that was called mainly to reconsider a legislative redistricting plan.

But Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, renewed her motion Thursday at the start of another one-day session that was called mainly to consider a comprehensive energy package. This time, with nearly all House members present, the measure passed, 74-41, largely along party lines. Reps. Amy Elik, R-Alton, and Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, were the only Republicans to vote yes.

Senate Bill 539 originally cleared both chambers during the spring session by overwhelming margins, 56-0 in the Senate and 113-5 in the House, even though Republicans at the time complained on the floor that it had been watered down. But it contained enough reforms, such as increased financial disclosure requirements and limits on the ability of elected officials to lobby other units of government, so that many lawmakers said they believed it was the best they could get at the time.

But a few weeks after it passed, on July 14, the General Assembly’s top ethics watchdog, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, submitted her intent to resign by Dec. 15, saying the bill would actually weaken her office by limiting the types of investigations she could conduct.

In response, many House Republicans called on Pritzker to issue an “amendatory veto” by asking lawmakers to strike the language that prompted Pope’s resignation. Instead, though, Pritzker issued a different amendatory veto, asking lawmakers to delete language related to the executive inspector general.

When that veto came back to the General Assembly Aug. 31, the Senate accepted Pritzker’s request unanimously, 58-0. But in the House, Republicans pulled their support while several Democrats had already left the building, leaving the amended bill with only 59 votes, far short of the 71 votes needed to pass.

In floor debate Thursday, Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, urged rejecting the governor’s amendment and returning to negotiations over a stronger ethics bill.

“There’s a lot of talk from your (Democratic) side of the aisle about how this is just a start and we need to do more and, you know, yada, yada, yada, everything else,” he said to Burke on the House floor. “I don’t think anybody has ever really answered, what’s keeping us from doing more right now?”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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