Pritzker signs order making Illinois 18th state to join U.S. Climate Alliance

Pritzker signs order making Illinois 18th state to join U.S. Climate Alliance

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois has become the 18th state to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of states pledging to abide by the Paris Climate Agreement, which President Donald Trump abandoned.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Wednesday adding Illinois to the pact, which aims to reduce America's greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

On its own, all the executive order does is direct the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to commit to the principles of the Paris agreement and to "monitor the Trump Administration's environmental proposals and identify opportunities to protect Illinoisans from environmental harm."

But climate experts heralded the move.

"I think that's wonderful," said Don Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist and one of the authors of last year's National Climate Assessment, which said climate change will lead to more diseases, more extreme weather and hundreds of billions of dollars in annual losses for some sectors by the end of the century.

"The science is really clear," Wuebbles said. "Now the question is, 'What do we do about it?'"

Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement in 2017, though Wuebbles noted that the U.S. is still technically part of it.

"No country can actually leave once they've agreed to join ... for four years, so officially the U.S. is still part of it anyway," Wuebbles said.

But the Trump administration is no longer trying to achieve the goals in the Paris agreement and has taken actions to reverse Obama administration policies combating climate change.

And Trump said he didn't believe the National Climate Assessment report, which was the work of 13 federal agencies.

But now 18 states representing 43 percent of the country have pledged to work toward the Paris goals.

"Illinois is well-positioned with the Future Energy Jobs Act and its implementation starting this spring," said Scott Tess, Urbana's environmental sustainability manager. "The governor's announcement is very encouraging, and I hope that it signals an interest to build upon the Future Energy Jobs Act and to quickly move toward a 100 percent renewable electricity grid in Illinois."

Illinois had already committed to having 25 percent of its energy come from renewable energy by 2025, and the executive order says that Illinois has the opportunity to "be on a path toward 100 percent clean and renewable energy."

Tess said the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act provides new incentives for wind and solar energy starting this year, which should enhance the Solar Urbana-Champaign program, now in its fourth iteration this year.

"There were incentives in previous years as well, but they were short-term statutes, so this is a long-term plan for incentivizing renewable energy," Tess said. "So Solar UC 4.0 is utilizing those."

He also said Urbana, which set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040, is planning to put a solar array on top of the landfill that was closed a couple decades ago when it filled up.

Tess is hoping the project will be selected by a new state lottery that's part of the Future Energy Jobs Act.

If selected, the solar array would be constructed this year, Tess said.

Andrew Rehn, the water resources engineer at the Prairie Rivers Network, also applauded Pritzker's move.

"It's good to see. I don't know if it's binding, but hopefully he'll keep to his word," Rehn said. "It's heartening to see states working together to fulfill the agreement when the Trump administration has decided to back away from it."

He said that as the country moves away from fossil fuels, policy makers should be mindful of how to properly wind down coal power plants.

Prairie Rivers has been fighting to keep the Middle Fork River clean of coal ash from the former Vermilion Power Station.

"We would like to see clean energy advance and move away from fossil fuels, and this represents a commitment to do that, at least in part," Rehn said. "While we do that, we want to see a just transition for power plant communities. That means looking ahead and mitigating the impacts of an economic driver leaving the community, while also not leaving behind waste."