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Polluters Could Fund Clean Energy Projects
State Rep. Nekritz, Coalition of Faith, Tax and Science Groups Say Climate Legislation Could Fund Clean Energy Projects, Fill State Budget Gap
WASHINGTON - April 15 - Illinois residents filing personal income taxes today may face future tax increases as the state tries to balance its budget. But Illinois State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and a coalition of scientific, faith and tax organizations today offered another approach: raise revenue by making companies pay to pollute.
"The Climate Action and Clean Energy Investment Act would address one of the most pressing problems our society faces," said Rep. Nekritz. "Requiring polluters to pay would have the added benefit of helping our state get back in the black."
Nekritz's bill (H.B. 3668) would limit heat-trapping emissions from large polluting sources, such as power plants and oil refineries. Companies could buy emissions credits-each worth a ton of emissions-through a state-run auction. They would have the flexibility to choose the best mix of reducing emissions or buying credits.
"Making polluters pay could prove far more popular-and lucrative-than increasing taxes," said Ron Burke, Midwest office director at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). A UCS analysis calculates that the Nekritz bill could raise $800 million to $4 billion annually in Illinois.
By comparison, the proposed $.08 per gallon gas tax increase sponsored by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) would generate approximately $500 million a year, while Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed income tax changes would generate slightly more than $3 billion a year.
Revenues raised from polluting businesses would go toward measures that strengthen energy efficiency, increase renewable energy use, acquire and preserve natural areas with plants and trees that store carbon dioxide, and further cut global warming pollution in ways that generate new local jobs. The state could also use a portion of the revenue to shore up its budget.
The House climate bill is part of a comprehensive set of climate policy recommendations sponsored by the Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group (ICCAG). The Legislature already has passed two new laws based on the advisory group's recommendations, including renewable energy standards for utilities and energy efficiency standards for new commercial buildings.
A 2007 state-commissioned study found that implementing the ICCAG strategies would reduce global warming emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and create 60,000 new jobs in 2020. The analysis also found that statewide energy costs would drop $1.1 billion in 2010, $2.6 billion in 2015, and $3.2 billion in 2020 compared with business as usual.
"Investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies will save consumers money and cut global warming emissions at the same time," said Burke.
Later this spring, Gov. Quinn and governors from five other Midwestern states are expected to sign off on a regional market-based program to reduce heat-trapping emissions. The House climate bill is designed to mesh with this regional program and authorize Illinois agencies to work with their counterparts in other Midwestern states and elsewhere.
At the federal level, Congress is expected to enact national global warming legislation sooner rather than later, Burke pointed out. By establishing a climate program before Congress acts, UCS maintains that Illinois would be better positioned to cut emissions and generate revenue that might otherwise have to come from tax increases.
Fears that such a program would push businesses-and jobs-out of state are unfounded, said Burke.
"With federal climate legislation on the horizon, polluters have nowhere to hide. Our state should seize the opportunity now to get ahead of the curve."
Finally, Illinois has a responsibility to address the problem it helped cause, Burke said. If Illinois were a nation, it would rank as the world's 24th largest global warming polluter.
"Illinois has a lot to lose if global warming continues unchecked, including reduced agricultural output, more urban heat waves, heavier rains, and increased flooding in the coming decades," he said. "Enacting climate legislation would put our economy and our environment on the right path."