Fossil-Enviro Alliance Wins Anti-Nuclear Victory in Illinois

Illinois legislation that would have prevented the premature closure of two nuclear plants has been killed by environmental groups and an alliance of fossil fuel companies.

Reports Tom Kacich at the Illinois newspaper the News-Gazette:

“Time has run out," said [Senator Donnie] Trotter. "I'm disappointed because I saw and heard, by sitting in those meetings, that there was some movement.  It was just one or two entities — and I'm not going to name them — who I think were intentionally slowing the process down.”

The most important of those entities is ELPC, the Environmental Law and Policy Center — a non-profit organization that represents itself as representing the public and environmental interest. ELPC created a “clean jobs coalition” whose allies include Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environment Illinois, Illinois Environment Council and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

All of those groups support subsidizing wind at 2.3 cents/kWh, but complained mightily over supporting the continued operation of Illinois' distressed nuclear plants — until market conditions change — at just 1 cent/kWh. 

Unless something changes, Illinois will go backwards on air pollution, climate change and green jobs. Exelon is expected to announce it will close both Clinton and Quad. If that happens, carbon emissions will rise the equivalent of adding two million cars to the road, and a minimum of 1,400 jobs will be lost.

Earlier this year ELPC raised at least $137,500 from natural gas, renewables or financial companies that would benefit from ELPC’s efforts to kill nuclear plants. ELPC raised it at its dinner where “recognition from the podium” was given by groups like Invenergy, a natural gas and wind company, for investing $10,000 to $25,000 to ELPC.

"Everybody looks with excitement when a new natural gas plant is build," ELPC head, Howard Learner said when justifying his efforts to replace nuclear plants with fossil fuels.

In truth, Illinois will suffer a large net job loss because it has so little natural gas, and most of the jobs in natural gas are in the production (drilling and fracking) side, not the generation side.

One of ELPC’s key allies in killing the legislation is the coal-funded BEST coalition. Several sources say the energy company NRG has provided large contributions to BEST to kill nuclear and replace it with coal, in addition to natural gas.

In 2012, the Sierra Club admitted it had taken $26 million from natural gas companies after Club activists took the information public.

ELPC is far and away the most powerful and influential environmental organization in the mid-west. ELPC is miles ahead of Sierra Club, NRDC, EDF and Greenpeace in terms of funding (about $6 million a year) and influence in the state capitol (it has a PAC that funds legislators).

Natural gas and renewable energy Donors to ELPC's 2016 dinner. some bought "recognition from the podium." Guest speaker was Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of pay-to-play corporate funding of NGO groups.

Natural gas and renewable energy Donors to ELPC's 2016 dinner. some bought "recognition from the podium." Guest speaker was Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of pay-to-play corporate funding of NGO groups.

ELPC’s talking points about subsidies and bail-outs are repeated by everyone, from Senate Democrats to Illinois’ Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Crane’s Business columnist, Steve Daniels.

Neither ELPC et al, nor Daniels nor Attorney General Madigan have expressed a problem with using subsidies to pad the profits of wind developers, including Exelon, which owns the 8.4 megawatt Agri-Wind farm in Illinois. 

Learner got his start in anti-nuclear advocacy in the mid-1980s when he worked as an attorney suing utilities to block the construction of nuclear plants.

Policymakers and journalists have made much of corporate funding for efforts to kill clean energy. Mostly those efforts have focused on the Koch brothers and Exxon. Fair treatment would require more focus on groups like ELPC and Sierra Club, which have taken money from natural gas companies while fighting nuclear energy, America’s largest source of clean, low carbon power.

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is an award-winning author and environmental policy expert. For a quarter-century he has advocated solutions to lift all people out of poverty while lessening humankind's environmental impact.