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'Clean Energy Jobs Act' Reintroduced as Advocates Say Goals More Urgent Than Ever

Hannah Meisel
Rep. Ann Williams reintroduces the Clean Energy Jobs Act during a news conference in Chicago.

Democratic lawmakers in Illinois are again re-introducing the so-called Clean Energy Jobs Act, renewing the effort for comprehensive legislation to address both climate change and expanding the state's renewable energy industry.

The bill was first introduced in 2019, but was put on the back burner as other legislative priorities crowded out CEJA during Gov. JB Pritzker’s first session as governor. Lawmakers pushed for the bill again last winter, but efforts were cut short after COVID-19 hit Illinois in March.

However, advocates for CEJA say 2021 is the year for the General Assembly to pass an omnibus energy bill to fix myriad problems in Illinois’ existing energy programs and the state’s renewable energy goals.

In its current version, HB804 calls for Illinois to have a carbon-free power sector by 2030, and to use 100% renewable energy sources by 2050.

In a press conference, the bill’s chief sponsor Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) said Illinois needs to move away from the monopolistic influence of power companies like Commonwealth Edison — the company which loomed large in former Speaker Michael Madigan’s decision to step down.

“The days of big utility companies sitting in back rooms shaping energy policy are over,” Williams said. “We need to put the people of Illinois first, not utility company profits.”

The bill — which is currently over 900 pages long — would provide incentives for businesses and communities to install charging stations for electric vehicles, offer on-the-job training opportunities for workers transitioning out of carbon-producing industries, and hire diverse workforces in green sector jobs

State Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) said in order to improve job prospects for communities of color, workforce strategies need to be holistic in approach and not just based on geography. 

“We don’t just want electronic vehicle charging stations, rooftop and community solar, and energy efficiency programs completed in Black neighborhoods and communities,” Peters said. “We want Black workers installing them. We want Black-owneded businesses designing the projects and getting them built.”

Another state senator — Cristina Castro of Elgin — said it is not only minority populations who could benefit from on-the-job training in green sector industries, but rather carbon-producing companies have negatively affected various groups across Illinois. . 

“CEJA has broad appeal because it not only strives to provide environmental justice to communities of color,” Castro said. “But it also addresses the needs of communities left by the wayside when coal companies cut-and-run; leaving joblessness, contaminated worksites, and property tax revenue deficits in their wake.”

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.
Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.