During his first year in office, President Donald Trump has rescinded or repealed many of his predecessor’s policies aimed at curbing climate change and protecting the air and water from pollution.
Those rollbacks — along with funding cuts to state environmental protection agencies — have concerned Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC).
“We’ve seen that whether it’s in Flint, Michigan, or… the lead in water in East Chicago, Indiana, these are issues states can’t necessarily deal with on their own,” Walling said. If Illinois were faced with an environmental crisis, it may not have the resources needed to address it.
Trump has presented his policies, particularly the review of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, as a way to bolster coal and other fossil fuel industries and increase jobs. Trump’s push has helped stabilize the coal industry in the Prairie State, according to the Illinois Coal Association.
But Walling believes there are bigger challenges facing the coal industry, such as low natural gas and renewable energy prices. She said she’s encouraged by the response from Illinois residents who want to see clean air and water protections.
“Here in Illinois, we’re choosing a different direction,” she said. She pointed out that the legislature approved the Future Energy Jobs Act just weeks after Trump was elected. The wide-ranging measure established energy efficiency goals for electricity companies and started a fund to help pay for solar power in low-income communities.
“It’s a direction that’s contributing tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic investment in Illinois,” she said.
The IEC and others will focus on strengthening environmental and workers' protections at the state level over the next year, Walling said.
“The rest of the country may be rolling back protections on the health and welfare of its citizens, but we want to make sure Illinois is not doing the same,” she said.