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Illinois Senate goes home without passing clean energy plan, hopes to return later this summer


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Negotiations for a clean energy plan in Springfield hit another roadblock Tuesday. The Senate adjourned without approving an energy bill just hours after dozens of advocates rallied outside the Capitol.

Clean energy groups want Illinois to completely phase out coal by 2035. Organized labor groups agree with that idea. Still, they want to keep the Prairie State and Springfield coal plants open until 2045. That would only happen if the plants could capture and store 90% of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.

"Either one of them, if they become law, would make Illinois a leader in this country on decarbonization, arguably the leader in decarbonization," said Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago). "Either proposal would do that."

Many advocates were upset to see the Senate leave without acting on their goals. Rev. Mike Atty led the rally outside the Capitol Complex Tuesday morning.

"This fossil fuels fight, the end of using fossil fuels to power our communities and our cities, is in need because our children need to breathe," Atty said.

Fifty lawmakers previously said they wouldn't approve a plan allowing the two municipal coal plants to stay open past 2035. That could still lead to very challenging votes on the energy bill in both chambers later this year.

Clean energy discussion not over

Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) explained his chamber remains ready, willing, and able to return to Springfield once all sides reach an agreement on the decarbonization timeline. However, this doesn't help thousands of union employees at Exelon nuclear plants likely to close soon.

The Pritzker administration hopes to provide nearly $700 million to Exelon to save jobs at the utility's nuclear plants. Harmon said he wanted to help those workers Tuesday.

"The General Assembly is not trying to close those plants. Exelon is threatening to close the plants. We're trying to help them," Harmon emphasized. "We're prepared to do something very significant. I'll bite my tongue on some other thoughts. But, we're the ones who are trying to help them and we will help them."

Harmon hopes Exelon will wait on that decision until they see a finalized plan from Springfield. Republicans close to the negotiations say there weren't enough votes to support the Pritzker administration's plan.

"I am disappointed that we weren't able to pass legislation that would keep our nuclear plants open," said Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris). "This is a bill that we have been working on for well over a year and a half and we had come to an agreement on the nuclear portion of the bill."

Rezin also argues Pritzker had unrealistic demands in his bill with proposals costing "thousands of jobs and potentially increase our electric bills up to 20 percent."

Administration reacts

Meanwhile, the governor's office says they presented a comprehensive plan to make substantial progress on climate change and preserve union jobs. Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said their bill resulted from dozens of working group meetings over the past year. She highlighted the bill's opportunity to double Illinois' commitment to renewable energy, putting the state on a closer path to a 100% clean power economy by 2050.

Abudayyeh noted the specific compromise for Prairie State and Springfield's City Water Light & Power if they reach the 90% carbon capture by 2034. She also explained the bill could help Illinois become "the best place in the country to manufacture an electric car."

"On top of all of these critical climate proposals, the bill leads with needed ethics and transparency reforms. The Senate chose not to take up that bill today," Abudayyeh said.

Advocates deeply disappointed

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition noted Harmon announced on June 1 that he stood with Pritzker on decarbonization targets needed in a final deal.

"Thousands of union workers and solar installers may now lose their jobs, while the climate crisis worsens and Black and brown communities continue to struggle," said coalition members. "We are deeply disappointed the Senate adjourned without taking action on a carbon-free energy future, but stand ready to enact the Governor's plan as soon as possible."

Deputy Governor Christian Mitchell hoped to testify before the Senate Energy Committee Tuesday morning. Although, members didn't call on Mitchell to speak on Pritzker's bill. In written testimony for the committee, the former Democratic lawmaker noted the administration moved substantially. However, Mitchell also explained the other side moved very little during negotiations.

"Everything we were told was necessary for an agreement - including a carbon capture exemption that gives both the Governor and environmentalists heartburn - is now present. And at some point a progressive climate bill is no longer a climate bill," Mitchell stated. "Going further than this is the tipping point."

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Mike Miletich

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