America needs a safer, cleaner, and more secure energy future. Sadly, the energy bill that is emerging from the House and Senate conference committee fails on all counts. Instead of cutting America’s oil dependence, boosting production of renewable energy, and lowering energy prices, this bill funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to polluting energy industries, and
opens up our coastlines and wildlands to destructive oil and gas activities. It gives so much money to oil companies, which are reaping record profits, that even the Bush Administration thinks its too much.
All of which makes it essential that Illinois do better. Gov. Blagojevich is close to having a key pillar of a safe and sane energy policy in place with the state's major utilities considering major commitments to providing clean wind power. (Congress rejected a similar proposal for the nation.)
Much more work is needed to clean up the old, coal-fired power plants that are poisoning our lakes with mercury and making life miserable for people with asthma and other respiratory problems. We also need to shift our efforts to build new coal plants with old-school pollution controls toward the much cleaner gasification technologies that level the playing field for Illinois coal and dramatically cut pollution. There have been some moves in this direction, but we still lack scrubbers on our existing plants and Illinois EPA is still approving new plants without the best controls.
Listed below are just a few of the many terrible provisions in the final energy bill that particularly affect Illinois:
New Life For Nuclear?
Illinois has more nuclear power plants and nuclear waste than any state in the nation. Nuclear power has proven to be extremely expensive, a security risk, and a major generator of waste with no safe disposal options. Congress and the Bush Administration are trying to revive the industry with billions of dollars in subsidies to the nuclear industry, including $2 billion risk insurance program for up to six new reactors that was not included in either the House or Senate passed energy bills. The bill also extends the Price Anderson Act for 20 years which limits the nuclear industry’s liability in case of an accident. It also promotes nuclear proliferation by reversing long-standing U.S. nuclear policy against reprocessing waste from commercial nuclear reactors, and using plutonium to generate commercial energy.
Protection For Drinking Water Polluters
Oil companies have now contaminated 20% of America's drinking water supply with MTBE, a gasoline additive. The bill provides “backdoor immunity” to the producers and distributors, of
the likely carcinogenic gasoline additive MTBE by removing MTBE claims from state court to federal court when the claims are based on state tort law, nuisance law, or consumer law. This unfairly deprives injured parties and
their representatives (Illinois water utilities, our Attorney General, etc) of their right to
have their claims heard here in Illinois, and could derail many legal claims entirely, effectively shielding those companies responsible for MTBE contamination from their full financial liability for the damages they have
Pouring Ever More Money Into Coal
Studies show that prioritizing renewables and coal gasification hold the most promise for creating jobs in Illinois. However, the federal bill prioritizes the weakest job creator - old style coal burning with $6 billion in new incentives, and federal loan guarantees to build at least 16 new coal-fired power plants.
It's not all bad. There is a new, permanent ban on oil drilling in the Great Lakes. Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is left untouched by the bill after the House OK'd letting the oil rigs in. (This battle never ends, however. The next key votes will come on the Bush Administration's proposed budget this fall.) But on balance, it gives tankers of taxpayer dollars away to our biggest sources of pollution.
Illinois can do better.