Winning on Clean Energy, and What Comes Next in Waukegan - The Years Project

Winning on Clean Energy, and What Comes Next in Waukegan

By Christine Nannicelli

In the final episode of Years of Living Dangerously, many of you met a group of individuals in Waukegan, Illinois who inspire me every day.

You met Dulce Ortiz, Reverend Eileen Shanley Roberts, Julio Guzman and many others who are part of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign. They fight every day to find ways to make their community better. America Ferrera had the opportunity to meet these incredible leaders this past year, but this team has been hard at work for years.

I met many of these folks years ago as an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Since 2013, grassroots volunteers with the Clean Power Lake County Campaign have asked NRG Energy and public officials to establish a responsible transition plan for the outdated Waukegan coal plant. Clean Power Lake County members advocate for a long-term sunset date for the coal plant, a proactive transition plan for impacted workers, redevelopment ideas for the lakefront site, and opportunities to bolster clean energy development in Waukegan.

What’s so remarkable to me is how far that this campaign has come in just these few years. As you’ve seen in the episode, there have been victories and there have been setbacks. It took time, pressure and courageous organizing from local volunteers to get where we are, and I’m happy to report some exciting developments that happened since cameras stopped rolling in Waukegan.

You might remember the scene where the Clean Power Lake County team hops on a bus to their state capitol to advocate for more clean jobs. The team just scored a major victory in the past few weeks and they saw that call for justice answered. Ambitious state clean energy legislation that prioritizes, and was shaped by, working class communities and communities of color — was just signed into law last week in the state of Illinois.

We were proud to see State Representative Rita Mayfield of Waukegan’s leadership as she voted “Yay” on the Future Energy Jobs Bill and was a Co-Sponsor of our original clean energy legislation introduced in 2015. The bill opens the door for more clean energy development across Illinois and expands energy efficiency. The bill also includes provisions to boost training and opportunity for solar jobs in low-income communities — which could greatly benefit Waukegan and nearby Lake County communities.

This community has rallied around Clean Power Lake County’s ambitious vision for their community’s future. This was absolutely clear a few weeks ago when 220 Lake County residents gathered on a snowy Sunday afternoon to catch a sneak peek of the episode.

In a true sign of how far this campaign has come, we saw Republican Lake County Board President Aaron Lawlor stand in front of the community and say: “Burning coal on Waukegan’s lakefront doesn’t fit with Lake County’s sustainability future and impedes our ability to seize the economic potential of our lakefront. Our county can, should and will be a leader in tackling climate change, and I’m proud that Clean Power Lake County has helped win concrete clean energy policies to bring new jobs and technology to our county.”

When it comes to community organizing, there’s nothing more powerful than great storytelling. It creates connections and spurs people to take action. I hope that’s what you all experienced last night when you saw Dulce and other members of Clean Power Lake County courageously share their story for the rest of the world.

Right now, we face uncertain times for our environment, our basic civil liberties, and our future.

Fossil fuel giant, NRG Energy continues to burn coal in Waukegan, but newly-passed, visionary clean energy policies are now law because of Clean Power Lake County’s work.

What Years of Living Dangerously captured is that the Clean Power Lake County campaign has worked for a long time to build an inclusive, equitable and sustainable vision for Waukegan. That work is not yet done, and we won’t give up that fight.