Will Rauner speak up for Illinois’ environment?

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Gov. Bruce Rauner | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

On Oct. 1, Chicago will host the only public hearing in the country regarding President Donald Trump’s dirty power plan, which is a proposal to bury President Barack Obama’s legacy of action on climate change. When Trump’s team comes to Illinois for feedback, what will Gov. Bruce Rauner say?

We’re not holding our breath. In fact we’ve been waiting well over a year, since we passed Senate Resolution 655 and House Resolution 490, with bipartisan support, calling on Gov. Rauner to respond to President Trump’s abdication of American leadership by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, and send a clear signal to the world that Illinois is embracing the clean energy economy. The resolutions, adopted in June of 2017, specifically called on Rauner to join 17 other governors in putting Illinois on record in support of the Paris Agreement, and to develop a plan to put Illinois on a path to 100 percent clean energy.


That was over a year ago, and we’ve heard absolutely nothing in response to these clear requests by both chambers of the General Assembly. Gov. Rauner’s silence speaks volumes, particularly given his recent keynote at a rally with the same coal barons who have been Trump’s partners in turning back the clock on environmental protections and clean energy policy. Our governor showed his true colors when he told his coal campaign contributors “I think we’ve got a friend now in the White House.”

Just as did President Trump, Gov. Rauner appointed a polluter lobbyist to run the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, a national analysis found that IEPA Director Alec Messina has the most “direct conflicts of interest with industries they’re supposed to oversee” in the country. He was exposed crafting backroom deals with coal companies that operate in Illinois that would result in dirtier air in Chicago and as far away as New York.

By contrast, from the day Donald Trump turned his back on the world by withdrawing from the Paris Accord, Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker has pledged to have Illinois join the U.S. Climate Alliance of states committed to reaching the targets.

Extreme weather events are now a regular reminder that the climate has already changed, and scientists are warning of dire consequences if deep emissions cuts aren’t made soon. Illinois is particularly prone to both flooding and droughts, worsening air quality, and extreme heat from destabilizing weather patterns. At risk are our public health, water and transportation systems, housing stock, and agricultural economy. We also know that economically disadvantaged communities, particularly in our cities and rural areas, are likely to bear the largest burden of these impacts, and are most in need of the jobs and investment offered by clean energy.

Donald Trump won’t be able to reverse the global shift to clean energy, but he could very well cause America to miss out on the growing boom. Illinois needs a governor who will boldly tell the world that Illinois is a climate action state and open for investment from the solutions sectors.

The clean energy projects in development across the state under the Future Energy Jobs Act can be just the beginning if we set bold goals for the decades to come.

Heather Steans is an Illinois state senator and Robyn Gabel is an Illinois state representative.

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