April 22, 2010

Is It Earth Day in Springfield?

I'm generally very upbeat on Earth Day. To me it's a day to celebrate - the Earth, how cool it is, what each of us can do to protect it, and how much progress we've made since the first Earth Day 40 years ago.

However, I've been spending time in Springfield lately.

Granted, they have a lot on their plate, but the recent sessions that have delivered big, landmark clean energy policy changes have not exactly been calm and orderly. For 2010, environmental advocates, very mindful of the budget crisis and the economy, put forth a package of proposals that would create good jobs, protect public health, and not cost the state a dollar.

With the legislative session potentially winding towards a mid-May adjournment, there's been a lot more thinking than acting going when it comes to creating new jobs and protecting our health:

-The Illinois RENEW package would create at least 28,000 jobs by 2015 by jumpstarting the Illinois solar energy industry and maintaining the growth in the wind industry. So far, there hasn't even been a substantial committee hearing on much of the package. Today, Earth Day, the Senate Energy Committee was set to shelve legislation merely to study creating jobs in installing renewables on large rooftops. (On the bright side, a proposal to help homeowners and businesses finance the cost of clean energy projects has cleared the Senate and awaits action in the House.)

-A proposal to protect babies by taking toxic bisphenol A out of baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula containers still awaits a vote in the State Senate.

While the environmental agenda awaits, polluters are largely having their way with the process. For example, a proposal to hamstring Illinois EPA's ability to issue protective pollution permits (that IEPA says will cost taxpayers an extra $1.4M per year) sailed through the Senate, as did a bill to lift the decades-old moratorium on new nuclear power plants.

All is not lost - the agenda is still alive, and this week negotiations over the clean energy package gathered steam. However, if this General Assembly is going to make Illinois cleaner and more prosperous, there's a lot left to do in the weeks ahead.

I, for one, would be happy to have another Earth Day after the session ends to celebrate the enactment of these environment and energy proposals.

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