Energy bill could see a vote as state lawmakers return for redistricting session

SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse on Tuesday for what is scheduled as a one-day special session to reconsider the legislative redistricting plan they passed during the spring session.

But the General Assembly might also vote on an energy regulatory overhaul bill that has stalled on numerous occasions, including at the end of the regular session in May and during a follow-up session called weeks later.

A 980-page proposal, filed as Senate Amendment 1 to House Bill 3666 by Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, received a subject matter hearing Monday night, meaning it did not receive a vote.

The major sticking point has been the phase-out of coal-fired power plants, specifically the Prairie State Energy Campus in the Metro East near St. Louis.

Two key Democratic interest groups – labor unions and environmental groups – have been at odds during the negotiations, with the former favoring looser carbon cap requirements for coal-fired plants, while environmentalists favored a strict 100 percent reduction or shutdown of the coal-fired plants.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said at the committee hearing, “some differences remain right now but I don't think any of them are insurmountable.” He also noted “we seem to, every five or six years in the General Assembly, work on a new omnibus energy bill. That's not likely to change because of this bill.”

Hastings said the language filed Monday would require Prairie State to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2040. He said it also requires that municipal coal plants “attain 105 percent carbon emission reduction by 2045 through use of carbon sequestration and/or direct air capture.”

The bill states the plant must capture 95 percent of its own carbon emissions through sequestration or plant retirement, while the remaining carbon reduction would be accomplished “through direct air carbon capture or any other available technology proven to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Outside of the decarbonization of coal plants, many facets of the bill have long been negotiated. 

That includes the goal of putting Illinois on a path to 50 percent renewable energy by 2040 and 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 through an increased fee on ratepayer bills to invest in renewables; a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030 through rebates and incentives; and increasing diversity in the renewable energy job force with training and other assistance through “clean jobs workforce hubs,” among other wide-ranging provisions.

Pat Devaney, secretary treasurer of the powerful AFL-CIO federation of labor unions, as well as representatives of the Path to 100 Coalition, which is focused on renewable energy development, testified in favor of the bill as amended.

The union groups are aiming to protect workers at fossil fuel plants as well as those at nuclear plants, while Path to 100 is focused on making more funding available for renewable projects.

Terry McGoldrick, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said lawmakers must act as soon as possible to prevent the closure of at least two Exelon nuclear plants.

The governor has offered about $694 million in subsidies over five years to three nuclear plants in an effort to keep them profitable. Nuclear plants produce the vast majority of the state’s non-carbon-emitting energy, and two – one in Byron and one in Dresden – are already scheduled for potential closure without state action.

“We literally have 14 days to save these two nuclear plants and thousands of jobs in the communities that those facilities are located,” McGoldrick said.

Jack Darin, of the Illinois Sierra Club, said his group is opposed to the bill as written due to carbon capture language, but “we have every intention of working as hard as we can to become proponents on a final bill.”

J.C. Kibbey, of the National Resource Defense Council, said “the things in this bill that claim to address emissions from these coal plants are uneconomical, they are ineffective, and they involve technologies that are unproven, and have never been deployed at scale.”

“The science tells us that we need to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change, and wealthy countries like the United States must do so even faster,” he said. “We are out of time for half measures that sound nice, but push action on climate off decades into the future.”

It’s unclear how long lawmakers would stay in town for the session that was originally scheduled for a one-day event to address legislative maps, which have to be redrawn to address concerns over the current maps’ constitutionality.

Despite not having official U.S. Census data in May at the end of the regular session, Democrats pushed through the current maps in order to beat a June 30 deadline spelled out in the Illinois Constitution. Thus far, that has helped them avoid sending the process to a bipartisan commission where Republicans would have a 50-50 chance of controlling the proceedings.

Since then, official census numbers have been released showing the new districts would be vastly unequal in population and would likely be held unconstitutional.

The House and Senate Redistricting committees held a series of hastily-called public hearings over the past few days, most of which were sparsely attended.

At a House committee hearing Sunday in Aurora, only one person testified – Aviva Patt, of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers – who complained that she hadn’t been notified of the hearing schedule, despite having testified in the spring, and that she wasn’t even given the web address of the virtual meeting until after the meeting had started.

Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, tweeted from that meeting, saying the doors to the building were locked well past the meeting’s 10 a.m. start time.

“No committee Dems in-person,” he wrote. “Five members of public present. No big screen/TV available for public to see those online & (PowerPoint) slides.”

Many of those who did testify at the hearings urged lawmakers not to vote on any new maps until after the public has had time to review and analyze any new proposal. New proposed drafts of Illinois House and Senate maps were posted online Monday.

The Senate Redistricting Committee was scheduled to hold one final virtual hearing at 6 p.m. Monday.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.