Senate adjourns without passing energy legislation

Senate President Don Harmon said there were two main sticking points between organized labor and environmental advocates over prevailing wages and the phaseout date for natural gas plants, which currently stands at 2045.

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Senate President Don Harmon speaks to members of the media after the Senate adjourned Tuesday, June 15, 2021.

The Illinois Senate adjourned Tuesday without passing any energy legislation after discussions on the topic fizzled out — again.

“We came up a little short today, but we will get it done,” Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said, adding he’s confident the bill, as proposed, would not have passed the chamber Tuesday.

Harmon said there were two main sticking points between organized labor and environmental advocates concerning the merger of labor protections and addressing equity issues — such as how the prevailing wage would apply to new industries set up under a potential energy proposal — and the phaseout date for natural gas plants, which currently stands at 2045 in proposals that have recently circulated.

Harmon said the two sides were close to a deal on the labor and equity issues, and the two sides plan to meet as early as Tuesday evening to continue discussions.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, a leader in the energy working group, said the two groups are some of the “most important Democratic constituency groups,” which creates problems for Democratic legislators.

“The second we bridge that gap, I think we’ll have a bill, and I think we’ll have that bill before the summer is up,” Cunningham, D-Chicago, said.

A spokesman from Exelon said in a statement the company is “disappointed” a bill didn’t come up for a vote and “absent quick passage of legislation, Exelon has no choice but to proceed with retiring Byron in September and Dresden in November, as previously announced.”

In a statement, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition said they were disappointed the Senate was heading home without a 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,” the statement reads in part. “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.”

Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, said she was optimistic those involved in negotiations could “find a way to make it work,” but said a bill that doesn’t center on the climate and equity would not get a deal.

“I do think we can get it done; the urgency is too great,” Williams, the House sponsor of the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, said. “I think everyone agrees that we need to eliminate carbon emissions ... but how we get there and when we get there is in contention.”

Asked if the House could take up an energy proposal when it meets Wednesday, Williams said she hadn’t heard of that as a potential idea but she and others are looking to get an agreement and “however we can do it is something we’ll consider.”

Legislators and stakeholders went through a similar process at the end of session last month, with murmurs of a deal being reached on an energy proposal giving way to both chambers adjourning without passing any legislation.

In a revised proposal sent to members of a state energy working group last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed a $694 million subsidy to be disbursed over five years to bail out three Exelon nuclear plants and shutter all Illinois coal plants, including Prairie State, by 2035, according to a memo summarizing the changes obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

That proposed subsidy fits within the parameters of an independent report Pritzker commissioned on the nuclear plants in Byron, Dresden and Braidwood, the memo said.

The closure of the Prairie State coal plant, which is owned by municipal utilities in Winnetka, Naperville, Batavia and dozens of other towns across the state, has been a point of contention during energy negotiations.

Some lawmakers called for Pritzker to keep the plant open, an idea the governor nixed.

“An exemption for the nation’s seventh largest polluter remains unacceptable to the Governor, as well as the nearly 50 legislators that have indicated they will not support a bill that does so,” last week’s memo reads in part. “The Governor stands ready to sign this bill should the General Assembly choose to pass it next week in Springfield.”

A spokeswoman for Pritzker did not immediately return a request for comment on where the negotiations stand.

It’s not yet clear when the Senate will return to take up energy legislation. The House is set to return to session Wednesday, and legislators in that chamber are expected to pass a bill creating an elected school board in Chicago.

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