Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois is stuck between the desires of his constituents who overwhelmingly support action on climate change and voices within the Republican party desperate to derail climate action on behalf of the Big Polluter Agenda. But with a series of votes intended to derail the historic Clean Power Plan to cut dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants coming through Congress, he is going to have to pick a side. The decision should be easy for a politician who has constituents who care about the integrity of the environment. The Senator has devoted time and energy towards protecting the health of Illinoisans, fighting for the Great Lakes and working hard on national security issues: all issues that will require addressing climate change to move the ball in the coming years.
That is why the NRDC Action Fund has been running digital ads across Illinois and a social media campaign to urge Senator Kirk to work for climate action and vote against bills targeting the Clean Power Plan. As part of that effort, we were joined by national security and business voices on a letter to the Senator outlining the issues at hand. Here’s the letter:
On behalf of our members in Illinois, the undersigned organizations, businesses, and civic leaders urge you to support real and timely climate action. Among the most important actions in this area would be for you to oppose any proposals to block, delay, weaken or otherwise prevent the EPA from protecting public health under the Clean Power Plan (CPP).
Your work on behalf of the Great Lakes has been greatly appreciated by our groups and memberships, but we want to reach out to stress the need to protect our fresh water seas on all fronts. And looking forward, one of the greatest threats to the Lakes comes in the form of climate change. Climate action is essential for protecting the Great Lakes—not to mention the lives and livelihoods of future generations and our communities.
There is strong business support for the clean power plan, including more than 100 businesses that make up the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition working toward implementation of the plan at the state level. A study by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute estimated that this legislation would create 32,000 new jobs designing, making and installing the clean energy projects that will put Illinois in compliance with the federal rules.
It’s absolutely essential that we reduce dangerous carbon pollution, which traps heat and is fueling climate change. The nation’s fossil-fuel power plants are the single-biggest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total. Today we limit mercury, lead, and soot from these power plants, but no such limits exist for carbon pollution.
Carbon pollution drives climate change, which is a clear and present danger to Illinoisans’ health and communities, bringing stronger storms, harsher droughts, and rising temperatures—most recently highlighted by findings that 2014 was, globally, the hottest year on record. The National Climate Assessment, a recent report from 13 federal agencies, warned that human-induced climate change impacts are happening today, and worsening in every region of the United States.
Here in Illinois, rising temperatures, along with greater air stagnation and other climate effects, increase ground-level ozone smog. There are more than 1.7 million people with asthma or chronic respiratory disease in Illinois who are especially vulnerable to the harmful health effects of ozone smog, which makes it harder to breathe. Eleven counties in Illinois currently have ozone levels that exceed EPA standards, and models indicate that areas with high ozone levels, like Chicago, are at risk of even greater ozone smog pollution due to climate change and rising temperatures.
Without efforts to reduce our carbon pollution, heat waves like the one in Chicago in 1995— which killed more than 700 people—could occur as often as once every two years by the 2050s. Heat waves far worse than the one in 1995, such as the 2003 European heat wave that resulted in 30,000 deaths, could occur once every two summers by the 2080s.
The devastating impacts of climate change are not limited to land and air. For decades, climate scientists have warned that significant swings in water levels would afflict the Lakes, warming waters would impact fish species and a loss of Lake ice pack could scour away shorelines. According to the National Climate Assessment, climate change encourages the production of the toxic algae that plagues our lakes and forced the city of Toledo to suspend water service last summer—and it should be noted an algae-related dead zone has now appeared in Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.
So much of the good work you have done on behalf of this globally unique and essential ecosystem which stands at the core of our region’s sustainability and quality of life will be utterly undone by climate change. In order to protect the Great Lakes, you must address climate change.
Senator Kirk, you and Illinois’ leaders have an opportunity to chart a healthy, clean energy future for our state. The Clean Power Plan presents Illinois with the opportunity to improve public health, foster new economic development, and help stabilize our climate.
And people across the state agree. Recent bipartisan polling shows Illinoisans are ready to fight climate change and advance clean energy by an overwhelming margin. Sixty-six percent of Illinoisans support the Clean Power Plan itself, and when informed that states can create their own plans to meet the pollution reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan, a whopping 83 percent of Illinoisans said they support the state developing a plan to reduce carbon pollution, as well as increasing the use of clean energy and energy efficiency.
This is an essential moment for climate action—we urge you to protect our state, our health, the Great Lakes and future generations by committing to oppose any proposals to block, delay, weaken or otherwise prevent the EPA from protecting public health under the Clean Power Plan.
Please let us know what you plan to do on this important issue.
If the Senator needs a reminder that climate issues are already wreaking havoc on his home state, he need look no further than downtown Chicago, where the Chicago River ran backwards last night due in part to climate-induced storms that dumped immense rainfall on the area, overwhelming the stormwater system and forcing millions of gallons of sewage-tainted water out into Lake Michigan.
But the chorus of voices advocating for climate action extends far beyond the environmental and business communities. The military and intelligence community has focused on the destabilizing impacts of climate change–something clearly noted in the most recent quadrennial review.
The climate votes should be easy for Senator Kirk. All the issues he cared about early in his career, and the consensus of his state point to the need for prompt climate action. We will quickly see who he is representing. In the meantime, let him know which side you are on with this online action.