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Faith Leaders Urge Full Speed Ahead Towards Clean Energy Transformation

Earlier this month, one of the nation’s oldest African American churches passed an historic resolution. More than 30,000 clergy and other leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church called for a “shift toward safe, clean energy like wind and solar” and urged action at both the state and national level to speed up that transition.

We at Faith in Place, the Illinois affliate of Interfaith Power & Light, and our 39 other state Interfaith Power & Light affliates across the nation, are also urging our policy leaders to speed up clean energy action. As people of faith and conscience, we know that our transition to the clean energy economy can also be transformative, breaking down the barriers that block communities of color and households in economically challenged neighborhoods from participating in the green economy for all.

On August 3rd, Chicago hosted the nation’s only public hearing on the proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), the EPA’s proposal that would provide incentives to states for more rapid development of clean energy projects, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, particularly in low-income and economically disadvantaged communities.

Youth holds a sign at a Clean Energy rally in Chicago
Youth holds a sign at a Clean Energy rally in Chicago

The CEIP is an opportunity to reverse the negative health effects of climate change disproportionately impacting people of color, with black children currently being four times as likely as white children to be hospitalized for asthma in Illinois.

And in Chicago and elsewhere, these impacted groups are the same communities where renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have not historically been affordable, and where investments are lacking. In Illinois, the powerful utility interests continue to block community solar programs, denying marginalized people the opportunity to participate in renewable energy— either as workers or as consumers.

The CEIP can change that. More than 200 people gathered at a rally at noon on August 3rd to empasize that point. It can deliver real economic benefits— including thousands of new, good-paying jobs— to all communities across our nation, but especially for those that have been impacted the most by pollution, and where jobs are needed most.

But, Illinois and all states must act with a sense of urgency. Under the CEIP, the benefits only go to states that act ahead of key deadlines. Here in Illinois we are allowing other states to pass us by in renewable energy, losing 500 wind and solar jobs last year, falling behind Oklahoma and Kansas in wind production; the state has not updated its energy efficiency standards for nearly a decade. Taking advantage of the CEIP is critical for us at this time. Letting the CEIP slip through our fingers would have big economic costs.

Pastor Booker Vance testifies at the CEIP hearing.
Pastor Booker Vance testifies at the CEIP hearing.

Bipartisan legislation to create 32,000 new jobs across Illinois over the next decade and to lift up struggling communities, while achieving new federal clean air goals, is pending in the General Assembly. There is no excuse for our State Policymakers to delay action any longer.

We can make the CEIP a transformative moment for Illinois and for all states. At the hearing, clergy joined environmental justice advocates in urging the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that benefits are delivered equitably and to ask critical questions about community engagement and whether proposed credit allocations reflect historic underinvestment and pollution in economically disadvantaged communities. We can get this right; but, doing nothing is not an option. Every day Illinois wastes by not acting on clean energy is a day we lose out on jobs going to other states. By waiting, we deny help to communities that are hardest hit by climate change, and we deny our children and seniors better health.

The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” For both Illinois and the nation, the time for transformation-- and the time to act on climate and lift up every community-- is right now.

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