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  • Megann Horstead

Oak Park starts dialogue on environment, Clean Energy Jobs Act

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Clean energy can be profitable, as well as practical, and should be pursued, said one of the state legislators who came to Oak Park recently to discuss the topic. Other legislators focused on environmental justice and creating opportunities for diverse employees in the growing environmental economy.

They made the remarks at a forum sponsored by a number of local nonprofit organizations, including Unity Temple, Interfaith Green Network of Oak Park-River Forest, the Sierra Club, Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Solar Energy Association, Oak Park Area Climate Action, Seven Generations Ahead,, Faith in Place and the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.

State Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat whose 39th Senate district includes much of Oak Park, said state legislators are working to advance the dialogue held with colleagues in Springfield with regard to environmental issues.

“We have—notwithstanding all of the better moral arguments—we have built the economic case that this is the right thing to do, that people can make a profit in the clean energy space,” he said. “We have really flipped the table on people who said, ‘No, solar is too expensive. We can’t do it. We don’t want to make the investment.’ It’s happened. It’s happened because people have figured out a way to do this profitably.”

Harmon said that on its face, there is no reason lawmakers shouldn’t succeed in passing some of the final bills of the veto session, which is taking place through Nov. 14.

Among the bills remaining up in the air is the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

“We are wrestling with an area that is incredibly complicated, that is very new in political terms, when we are going up against some of the most sophisticated, powerful, entrenched interests in government,” Harmon said.

Several speakers made mention of the need for bills to promote environmental justice.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, a Democrat from the 8th House district in Chicago, said it’s easy for people to express support of a cause, but he wants to make sure the Clean Energy Jobs Act is just.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from the 4th Senate district, is the only Oak Park and River Forest-area legislator to co-sponsor the bill.

Much like the other state legislators at the forum, Ford said he is committed to ensuring change is realized. He said he wants to make sure there are enforcement measures to target the state’s goals, which he thinks is lacking in the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Lilly shared that sentiment, saying the bill has holes in it with regard to certain populations.

“Our black community, our African-American community, our under-resourced communities—we all know them,” she said. “How do we support them in getting involved? Nothing in the bill really outlines how to do that, but yet we talked about we want to do it.”

State Rep. Camille Lilly of the 78th district of Chicago, a Democrat, said it’s important to bring the correct partners to the table to engage in dialogue on environmental issues to help ensure that clean energy ventures are profitable.

Kevin Borgia of the Illinois Solar Energy Association acknowledged that “greed is real.”

“This industry is going to require all of us dialoguing to learn from the other industries that did not get it correct,” Lilly said. “This is the time to get it right. Let’s not rush into this.”

Harmon said that changing public policy requires taking advantage of incremental opportunities to move forward.

The forum was held at Oak Park’s Unity Temple on Oct. 13.

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