Our Legislative Blueprint for a Clean and Healthy Illinois

Our Legislative Blueprint for a Clean and Healthy Illinois
Illinois capitol (goodfreephotos.com)

The NRDC Action Fund will be lobbying for an ambitious environmental agenda in Springfield this legislative session.

This week marks the beginning of the 2024 Illinois legislative session. The NRDC Action Fund is working in Springfield to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature in the Midwest’s most populous state. This session, we are advocating for an ambitious agenda—in close coordination and collaboration with coalition partners—for a more sustainable future for Illinois. It’s a future with less pollution in the air we breathe and the water we drink; with strong protections for our state’s wetlands in the wake of a disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision; and with meaningful safeguards for Illinois’s environmental justice communities. It’s going to be a busy session. Not every bill we advocate for will pass the House and Senate and head to the governor’s desk before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on May 24. In fact, we are planning for some of the work we do this year to lay the groundwork for success in the next two to three years. Here are some of the priority bills and policies the NRDC Action Fund will champion in Springfield over the next five months.

Powering Up Illinois Act

Tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks contributes to the climate crisis and adversely impacts human health. One of the biggest challenges to transitioning to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) is the lack of adequate charging infrastructure. The federal government is making significant and needed investments in electric vehicle charging, thanks to two of President Biden’s signature achievements: the largest infrastructure bill in American history and the Inflation Reduction Act. To make the most of these federal funds and ensure that the promise of Illinois’s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) becomes a reality, the Powering Up Illinois Act will make it state policy that investor-owned utilities must prepare the grid for the transportation and building electrification needed to meet state decarbonization goals and federal, state, regional, and local air quality and decarbonization standards. In short, the bill directs the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and utilities to ensure our electric grid is ready to transition to a cleaner transportation system. The bill would create good union jobs and make Illinois a leader in clean infrastructure.

Clean vehicles standards

While the Powering Up Illinois Act will ensure the grid is ready for clean vehicles, the three clean vehicle standards that the NRDC Action Fund is advocating for will ensure Illinois stands to gain from the public health, climate, and economic benefits of clean cars and trucks. The three standards are Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT), Heavy-Duty Low-NOx Omnibus (HDO), and Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II). These rules work together to increase the overall availability of ZEVs in Illinois while slashing pollution from new diesel and gasoline engines. In 2023, exhaust from diesel engines in Illinois led to more than 5,000 asthma attacks, nearly 200 heart attacks, and 416 premature deaths across the state. A fully electrified Illinois will see nearly $60 billion in public health benefits by 2050 and avoid 5,410 deaths due to vehicle pollution. Here’s how the standards work:

  • The ACT rule requires manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of new medium- and heavy-duty trucks as ZEVs, guaranteeing a minimum number of these clean, cost-saving vehicles are available in Illinois.
  • The HDO rule reduces nitrogen oxide pollution from new gasoline and diesel engines by 90 percent. If adopted in 2024, the rules would go into effect in 2028. The financial benefits alone of ACT and HDO would include tens of billions of dollars in fleet savings and public health benefits by 2050, along with thousands of new jobs.
  • The ACC II rule is a set of regulations that will reduce smog-causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from Illinois’s light-duty vehicle fleets by requiring a ramp-up of ZEV sales from 35 percent in 2026 to 100 percent in 2035. Like the ACT rule, these clean car standards would also create billions of dollars in public health benefits and thousands of jobs while phasing out the emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.

Omnibus transportation bill

Rounding out our priorities for the transportation sector, NRDC Action Fund is working with legislators and a diverse coalition of partners on a bill that would increase mobility options, reduce greenhouse gases from transportation, and build safer communities. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in Illinois, and our current transportation system is not working well for many Illinoisans. That is why we are working to pass legislation that would support a robust and equitable transit system, set greenhouse gas targets for transportation planners and agencies, and create job opportunities in mobility sectors while providing more options for those without cars to access jobs.

Clean Heat

To meet Illinois’s climate goals, we must also cut emissions from the building sector. Around 20 percent of Illinois’s emissions come from buildings, and Illinoisans pay some of the highest fixed charges for gas in the Midwest. Our state has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in shutoffs. The current gas system is also a threat to our health. Recent research suggests that roughly 20 percent of current childhood asthma is attributable to gas stove use in Illinois. We need to begin planning now for the transition to a future that is less dependent on toxic methane gas, which is harmful to our health, our wallets, and our climate. The Clean Heat bill would accomplish that by moving Illinois to a Clean Heat Standard by 2050 through declining emissions caps, with increased emissions reductions in equity investment–eligible communities. The bill would also ensure that the ICC conducts proceedings to explore pathways for gas utilities to meet the Clean Heat Standard and consider electrification as an alternative to gas to meet Illinoisans’ heating needs. Other cold-weather states, including Colorado and Vermont, have already passed Clean Heat Standards.

Protecting Illinois’s wetlands

Wetlands store carbon, curb flood risks, recharge groundwater, and improve water quality. They are essential for addressing climate change and the biodiversity crisis. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Sackett v. EPA, dramatically weakened the federal Clean Water Act and ruled that wetlands do not deserve protection from pollution and destruction. In the long term, we need to fix the Clean Water Act, but that is not in the cards with the current Congress. In the near term, we must implement protections for Illinois’s wetlands, because while other states already have strong wetlands protections on the books, Illinois does not. NRDC Action Fund and our coalition partners have been meeting with legislators to educate them about this important issue and have filed bill language for the House and Senate. It is imperative that the Illinois General Assembly passes a law this session to protect wetlands that have lost federal protection.

Filter First

In 2023, after years of advocacy and lobbying, NRDC Action Fund helped secure a major step forward in the fight to get lead out of drinking water by passing Filter First legislation in Michigan. The new law protects kids from lead by requiring the installation of water filters in schools and child-care centers. As we know, Illinois has more lead service lines than any state in the country. The Action Fund will be working with lawmakers in Springfield on legislation to ensure that children in Illinois benefit from the same protections as children in Michigan and that no child in our state is at risk from lead in drinking water.

Illinois Environmental Justice Act

Last year was a step backward for statewide environmental justice protections in Illinois. The Illinois Environmental Justice Act (HB2520) would have reformed zoning and permitting processes for industrial facilities, giving communities a greater voice in the process when new polluters want to set up shop in their neighborhoods. A version of the bill passed the House in 2022 but was never called for a vote in the Senate. In 2023, the bill did not even pass a single chamber. This year, in coordination with our environmental justice partners, the Action Fund will both redouble our efforts to ensure strong protections for Illinoisans and play defense against any measures to add to the cumulative burdens of pollution in such communities.

These priority bills represent just part of what the NRDC Action Fund is working on in Illinois in 2024. In Springfield, we are continuing to ensure the core provisions of CEJA are properly implemented and not weakened; that Illinois enacts transformational policies to address the enormous challenge of food waste; and that our state budget meets the moment of the climate and biodiversity crises. In Chicago, after years of fits and starts, we are anticipating the Clean and Affordable Buildings Ordinance will be introduced this month, and we are continuing to lobby for a cumulative impacts ordinance to ensure the dream of environmental justice in Chicago becomes a reality. The NRDC Action Fund will continue working for a clean and healthy Illinois for all.