The spring legislative session ended in the early hours this morning as next year’s state budget made its way through its final stop, the Illinois House. While a number of exciting environmental bills will head to the Governor’s desk, ultimately, these were overshadowed by substantial bills that will increase carbon emissions, and air pollution, especially in environmental justice communities, and set back renewable energy development.
Still, it was clear that our movement’s grassroots efforts made a difference. In a committee hearing this week, a state senator held up a large stack of letters dropped off by IEC staff from her district constituents, showing the committee that her constituents wanted her to vote no on the proposal. An opponent testifying on a bill complained about the volume of Twitter and social media posts from IEC and our partners opposing an anti-environment proposal. A lawmaker shared with us a text alert sent by our partners at Sierra Club Illinois and told us that they were hearing from their constituents.
During the last few days of session, when proposals are moving quickly and lawmakers are away from their districts, deep-pocketed special interests and well-connected lobbyists have an easier time reaching lawmakers than their concerned constituents do. This leads to policy outcomes that are terrible for people and the environment. Your thousands of letters, calls, social media posts, and other efforts to help IEC amplify support for environmental issues truly strengthen IEC’s connection to lawmakers. Together, we make sure your voice is heard.
As always, we will provide a thorough rundown of what happened during this legislative session in our annual Legislative Report. Keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks. Until then, you can find recent highlights below.
Late last night, HB3445 passed containing language to give Ameren, a downstate utility company, a “right of first refusal” to build regional transmission lines in southern Illinois. Transmission is critical to meeting our clean energy goals in CEJA. This action could be costly and time-consuming, further delaying clean energy adoption downstate. This language was introduced on Wednesday and sped along despite environmental, consumer, and business opposition. On Friday, the bill received 63 votes, three votes more than the 60 needed to pass. However, the Governor publicly vowed to veto this bill. His veto would need 71 votes to be overridden by the legislature. That’s good news. It means we’ll need to work to keep lawmakers opposed to this bad policy, but we are in great shape to fight it and win this fall.
The Illinois House and Senate passed two disastrous bills that will increase vehicle miles traveled and thus climate emissions and diesel pollution in environmental justice communities. HJR23 is an authorizing resolution to move forward the I-55 managed lane proposal. Communities in southwest Chicago are concerned that this proposal, which adds four 80-mile lanes to I-55, will increase the number of diesel trucks in an already overburdened community. HB2878 includes a particularly problematic provision to increase public-private partnerships to include new governmental units and removes regional planning organizations from the process. This proposal has no guardrails to protect taxpayers, no environmental or climate protections, and no ethics provisions. HJR23 passed 39-11 in the Senate and 88-3 in the House. You can view how your lawmakers voted here in the House and here in the Senate. We will be working with our community partners on next steps as the I-55 project moves forward and the public-private partnership bill heads to the Governor’s desk.
The budget included some great environmental protections related to conservation and water quality. We were pleased to see soil and water conservation programs returned to near-level funding after threats of a 50% cut earlier this year in the Governor’s proposed budget. This included an $18 million allocation to the Partners for Conservation Fund, a critical piece of funding supporting sustainable agriculture initiatives in SB1701, the Healthy Soils and Waters Initiative. There were also sustained levels of funding for open space conservation and acquisition, which had set a new high record in FY23.
We were disappointed to see cuts to the electric vehicle rebate program, which was only partially funded last year, leaving EV purchasers upset at the lack of funding. On a brighter note in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, $30 million has been set aside to shut down the coal boiler which services the Capitol complex, a great example of the State leading by example in its energy policies.
On a brighter note in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, $30 million has been set for climate reductions at the Illinois State Capitol, pushed by the new Illinois Secretary of State.
The House and Senate won’t return to Springfield until the veto legislative session in the Fall. In the meantime, IEC and our partners have already begun strategizing about how we can make more aggressive progress on our biggest environmental priorities.