Photo shows two workers in hi-vis jackets and helmets pointing at a row of wind turbines. A new Illinois law plans to phase out fossil fuels in favor of clean energy such as wind.
Illinois could phase out fossil fuels thanks to a new law. | Header credit: BulentBARIS / Getty

New Illinois Law Phases Out Fossil Fuels, Embraces Clean Energy

Illinois’ new energy law promises an economically equitable transition to solar and job retraining for workers affected by coal mine closures.

Illinois has become the first Midwestern state to pass a law banning fossil fuels.

On September 15, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB 2408) into law. The nearly 1,000-page clean energy bill received a bipartisan majority in both the House (83 yes to 33 no) and the Senate (37 yes to 17 no).

Illinois is the fourth largest coal producing state, following Wyoming, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The law phases out the use of fossil fuels like coal in the power sector by 2045, outlining a clear path to achieving a carbon-free electric grid.

Under the law, the state will provide $700 million in subsidies to its struggling nuclear plants over the next five years. It will double its subsidies for renewable energy sources, investing $580 million a year into wind and solar power and create a program to help coal-fired power plants in their transition to solar.

“We can’t outrun or hide from climate change—not to the north, where the Boundary Waters burn; not to the south, where Ida swallows lives and livelihoods in the blink of an eye,” Pritzker said.

Illinois to phase out fossil fuels with new law

The new law aligns with President Biden’s plan to achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Illinois joins a growing list of states that have passed similar mandates, including California, Maine, New York, and Hawaii. However, Illinois’ legislation is significant in that it promotes racial and economic justice.

The law ensures an economically equitable transition to solar power with an emphasis on helping workers and marginalized groups that have historically been dependent on fossil fuels. Research shows these communities are often disproportionately affected by climate change and other environmental concerns like pollution, natural disasters, and land degradation.

To help alleviate these disparities, the Illinois Solar for All program—an initiative that assists low-income households in getting rooftop solar power—will see its annual funding increased to $50 million. Workers left jobless due to coal mine and plant closures will receive retraining aid, job placement assistance, and have access to college scholarships for their children.

The law does fall short in that it doesn’t mandate restrictions on coal mining in the state. However, lawmakers that supported the bill say they do still plan on tackling this and other climate-related concerns like transportation in the future.

“Every piece of legislation is going to get criticized for what’s not in it, but I will say that the amount of time it took to get to this solution is progress,” Senator Michael Hastings, a sponsor of the bill, said. “Over the next few years, I think you’re going to see a lot of these other issues addressed.”