Photo by Joe Boyle
State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) speaks before the Environmental Town Hall meeting Saturday at St. Xavier University. Cunningham is joined by (from left) state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), who helped to organize the event.
A group of Illinois environmental organizations have indicated that an increase in clean energy and green jobs will become a reality in the state despite a rash of cuts by the Trump administration.
“We are the eyes, ears and voice of the environmental community,” said Colleen Smith, the legislative director of the Illinois Environmental Council, during the Environmental Town Hall meeting held Saturday morning at the Warde Academic Center at the St. Xavier University campus in Chicago.
Members of the council joined the Citizens Utility Board, Sierra Club of Illinois, Illinois Solar Energy Association and Union of Concerned Scientists to inform over 20 residents who attended the town hall meeting that clean energy jobs will become the norm during the next decade.
State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Reps Fran Hurley (D-35th) and Kelly Burke (D-36th) helped to organize the event.
“I want to thank everyone for coming,” Cunningham said, referring to the temperatures in the upper 90s. “This is an important issue and I’m glad so many people took the time to come out today.”
Rebecca Judd, the advocate for Clean Energy for the Sierra Club of Illinois, said that over 120,000 jobs for Illinois residents have been established in the clean energy sector as of 2016. But as a result of the Future Energy Jobs Acts (FEJA) and its requirements that at least 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power have to be built in Illinois by 2030, thousands of more jobs will be created, Judd said.
“This will encourage more businesses and customers to take part and not just large corporate customers,” Judd added.
All the speakers agreed that coal production will diminish even further in Illinois despite President Trump calling for producing more coal in locations such as West Virginia.
J.C. Kibbey is the Midwest outreach and policy advocate for the Climate and Energy programs for the Union of Concerned Scientists. He said coal production will dwindle dramatically regardless of what the president says.
“Just look back at what has happened with coal the past 10 years,” Kibbey said. “I lived near a coal plant and I had breathing problems as a kid. You hear from people who say they are going to bring back big, beautiful coal. But realistically, it just doesn’t make economic sense.”
Kibbey said that 38 percent of coal plants will be retiring soon. People who live near coal plants are usually people of color and many of them are poor, Kibbey said. Instead of stating that coal plants will increase, the Trump administration should help these people develop different skills, he added.
He mentioned that the coal plant that was near his home while he was growing up in Lansing, Mich. has since closed and is now an insurance headquarters that employs thousands of people.
“Just shutting coal plants is not the end of the story,” Kibbey said. “New opportunities through clean energy will create jobs.”
But Kibbey is realistic right now that some of those jobs will not be created during the Trump administration.
“I’m not holding my breath,” he said. “We will see in a couple of years”
Kibbey pointed out that no coal transitions are alike. He said that there are eight coal plants in Illinois. for He finds it ironic that some of the coal companies are looking for bailouts from the government but have previously been critical of intervention by Washington to assist ailing industries.
“It makes no sense for our economy and it makes no sense for our health,” Kibbey added.
A representative from Solar Energy for Your Home said renewable energy sources will continue to increase even though the president is calling for more tariffs.
“We can have a massive debate on the Trump administration but most of the clean energy jobs are going to come through right at the state level,” Smith said. “Nothing is going to stop that. As far as the general election in November, our advice to everyone is to stay engaged.”