May 19, 2009

Illinois to Finally Get Clean Cars - From Obama

Well it looks like the next car you buy (starting in 2011) will be a lot cleaner, and save you big bucks at the pump. That's what the Illinois Clean Car Act (HB 422/SB 1941) would do, but today the big win for your wallet and the planet comes from Washington, not Springfield (although Illinois certainly played a role in today's historic announcement.)

President Obama announced historic new CAFE and tailpipe standards to reducing oil consumption by an estimated 1.8 billion barrels and cut global warming pollution 30% by 2016 with cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.

People use the word "historic" a lot, but this is one time where it fits. Presidents going back to Nixon have talked about major changes in fuel economy, but none have ultimately been willing or able to reform Detroit. The paralysis in DC on most energy issues, but especially fuel economy, led California, and now 14 other states, to go their own way with tougher standards for the pollution that causes asthma attacks and global warming.

If Springfield had passed the Illinois Clean Car Act, we would have been next. That would have meant over half the national car market, and a big state right in the middle of the distribution chain, had gone "clean". Would Detroit have stubbornly continued to make a dirty version of every car, as they do now? Most thought not, especially with Minnesota and North Carolina also looking at going clean.

So the sponsors of the Illinois Clean Car Act played a key role, led by Karen May (D-Highland Park), but joined by many, including House Speaker Michael Madigan and 31 others, including brave Republicans Mike Fortner (West Chicago), Sandra Pihos (Glen Ellyn), and Beth Coulson (Glenview). While most of the debate on the bill was in the House, Senate Sponsors Terry Link (D-Waukegan) and Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) kept the discussion alive in that chamber.

The Illinois Climate Action Network joined the environmental community with faith organizations, local governments, public health advocates, organized labor, students, and other clean car supporters. Thousands of Illinoisans showed support with town hall meetings, "clean car washes", lobby days, district visits, and other contacts with their legislators. A May 2008 poll found that 90% of Illinois voters supported the legislation.

Clearly change was on the way, and ultimately Detroit decided to stop fighting here in Illinois and elsewhere, and finally agree to build the kind of cleaner, more affordable cars that Americans clearly want to buy. There are a few details to be worked out, and we need to voice strong support for Obama's plan so it is finalized by the federal agencies, but we are almost there.

Change comes in many ways. Sometimes Illinois is way out front, like when we passed our 25% by 2025 renewable energy requirement in 2007, that Congress will hopefully finally echo for the country this year. In this case, we also did our part, but President Obama beat us to it, and we are all grateful and better off for it.

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