The delayed half-measures that characterized the initial global response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate the catastrophic toll that denial and apathy can have in perpetuating and exacerbating a crisis. Governments acting quickly with proactive measures to contain the novel coronavirus are seeing slower infection rates and fewer deaths. Preparedness matters, and it saves lives. We have a collective responsibility to apply this lesson to another major global challenge: the climate crisis.
More than 30 years ago, I began ringing the alarm bell to Congress about the negative consequences of increasing greenhouse gasses for our climate. Since then, the world has taken some steps forward—and some backward. Without an immediate, visible threat, leaders across the world have been slow to act, risking the progress we’ve made toward securing the clean energy future our nation and world deserve.
Illinois is Exhibit A of this phenomenon. Years of environmental progress made by state legislators who understand the importance of transitioning to clean energy sources have been put in peril by federal regulators. Last year, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decided to impose a Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) on clean energy sources in the state’s regional electricity market, it jeopardized meaningful progress towards a clean energy future by artificially inflating the price of zero-carbon sources to make them less competitive than fossil fuels.
FERC will soon finalize these new MOPR rules to take effect in early 2021, forcing states in the PJM electricity market, which includes a portion of Illinois, to buy dirty, more expensive energy for years to come. This is antithetical to the fight against the climate crisis. It’s an affront to Illinois citizens who demand and deserve clean air. It contradicts the vision of Illinois elected leaders who already passed legislation requiring 25 percent of Illinois’ energy come from renewable sources by 2025. And this ruling clashes with Gov. JB Pritzker’s 2019 commitment to join the U.S. Climate Alliance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with targets set in the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement.
In the face of such strong headwinds from regulators stuck in the past, it is vital that leaders in Illinois and across the nation push forward and immediately enact legislation that properly values all sources of zero-carbon energy. FERC’s new regulations are taking effect now, locking in dirty energy for at least the next five years. This means unless state legislators act quickly, Illinois cannot sidestep this urgent challenge, regardless of who Americans vote for in November.
In addition to not having the luxury of time, the existential crisis we face leaves us without the luxury of being selective. It requires a proactive, all-hands-on-deck approach when considering which types of zero-carbon generators we employ to turn the tide in favor of environmental progress and decarbonization. In a state without abundant hydropower, no clean energy plan is complete without nuclear power, which currently provides more than half of all electricity in Illinois, and can continue providing reliable, clean and affordable power for decades to come. When nuclear power plants are shuttered, they are replaced, in large part with dirty energy sources like coal and natural gas. If nuclear power is ignored, not only does it put thousands of jobs at risk, it’s also a major leap backward in lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the state and the region—one that we cannot afford.
We cannot wait another 30 years to make the changes needed to respond to the climate crisis. And we most certainly cannot take any more steps backward. As we take care of ourselves and each other during COVID-19, we must also think about what we can do to take care of our world. Let’s start by promoting common-sense policies that encourage all of the energy sources we need to build a better, cleaner and healthier world.