Last year, Illinois enacted a foresighted law designed to provide cleaner air, more jobs and lower energy bills for the state’s residents. Now, a company that owns coal-fired Illinois power plants is pushing to weaken clear-air rules in a way that would undermine those goals. The Illinois Pollution Control Board should take a deep breath and refuse to go along.
A vote for this idea would be a big step backward. The state’s air, including in Chicago, would get dirtier and the transition away from a coal would be detoured.
Last year, stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to utilities laboriously finished hammering out an agreement that led to the Illinois Future Jobs Act, a law designed to improve residents’ health and help make Illinois a leader in renewable energy — all while reining in utility bills.
Since then, however, two utilities have engaged in what amounts to a counterattack.
First, the Downstate utility Ameren, which supplies gas and electricity to central and southern Illinois, persuaded the Illinois Commerce Commission to let it lower its energy efficiency goals.
Now, Dynegy Energy, which owns eight coal plants in central and southern Illinois, wants the Illinois Pollution Control Board to scrap the limits on the rate of pollution each of its plants can emit. Dynegy, which is also reported to be seeking rate increases in the Legislature, proposes instead that existing annual caps apply to its plants as a group, which would allow it give its dirtier plants more leeway to belch out soot and other pollutants that cause smog and acid rain. The proposal comes as Dynegy faces a deadline it agreed to in 2006 to reduce air pollution.
In classic example of the problems with revolving-door government, Dynegy has worked with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — a former lobbyist for a trade association that represents Dynegy — to draw up the plan. According to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, the revised pollution caps would provide a financial incentive to Dynegy to actually increase pollution if they chose.
Among other issues at a hearing Thursday, Dynegy will ask the Illinois Pollution Control Board to rush through the decision-making process. But there is no need to hurry this through without full input and careful consideration. Illinois does not face any shortage of power generation capacity.
The environment is under regulatory assault from the Trump administration, which is intent on chopping away protections. As a result, states must become even more vigilant about protecting their air and water. Plans such as Dynegy’s should be rejected.
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