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What front-line communities want from Illinois' equitable energy bill

Thousands of teens and people march in downtown Chicago to bring awareness to the urgency of climate change.

Thousands of teens and people march in downtown Chicago to bring awareness to the urgency of climate change. Image via Antwon McMullen on Shutterstock.

Front-line community groups were absolutely essential in passing Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) that has been years in the making. The state is the first in the Midwest with a binding 100 percent carbon-free energy standard by 2045 and a national leader in equitable clean energy policy. Community and environmental justice groups fought to prioritize neighborhoods such as mine, which have long been used as sacrifice zones and dumping grounds for toxic pollution. Now our communities will continue to fight to ensure that communities of color see the benefits of the clean energy economy as this law is implemented.

The bill has a focus on equity and expanding economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities and people of color in the clean energy sector. Environmental justice communities, including Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Blacks in Green and Clean Power Lake County, were central to both the policy design and political push for the legislation.

The policy will invest a total of $115 million per year to create job training hubs and career pipelines for low-income and underserved populations, incubate and grow small clean energy businesses in disadvantaged communities, and more. Eighty million dollars a year will be set aside for the new Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs Program, which will create 13 hubs around Illinois to deliver equity focused workforce and contractor development programs for renewable energy and energy efficiency to communities such as the Southeast Side. Under-resourced communities across the state would also have access to $35 million a year for business development grants and to create programs for workers to enter the clean energy economy.

As a lifelong resident of an environmental justice community, I can’t tell you how many times we've been passed up for opportunities or missed out on the positive impacts of the clean energy boom. We’re thrilled that CEJA aims to create economic opportunities for EJ communities and we see several avenues through which these promises could come to fruition right here on the Southeast Side.

If you take a drive through my neighborhood, you would immediately notice all of the brown and contaminated fields that abound. We want these spaces transformed into solar farms and clean energy developments so that we can introduce more wind and solar power into an area where we’ve become accustomed to breathing in air pollution from factories.

We also hope that one of the Workforce Network Hubs will be housed in our community and bring clean energy jobs to install solar panels or wind power right to our doorsteps.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Recently, we’ve been bombarded with toxic industry. From General Iron’s metal shredding facility to the proposed Invert Mining Project, it’s all left Southeast Siders wondering when it will finally be our turn to reap the clean energy benefits we’ve watched other communities receive. We hope CEJA will be our chance. We’ve waited far too long already.

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