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Advisory group's recommendations are anti-business, anti-growth

Last year, Gov. Blagojevich issued an executive order creating the Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group. He announced the group would consider a full range of policies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Illinois and make recommendations to the governor. His announcement also stated that the advisory group has broad representation including business leaders, labor unions, the energy and agricultural industries, scientists, economists and environmental groups from throughout the state.

As with many of Gov. Blagojevich's initiatives, the reality of this group is far different from the perception the administration presented.

Gov. Blagojevich appointed Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, to chair and select the group. While touted as having broad representation, membership is weighted toward environmental groups.

From the outset, it appeared the governor would discount knowledge and experience of industry experts who manage and comply with environmental laws and regulations, such as those in the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group (IERG), who appreciate the reasonable, practical balance of sustained economic growth with ensuring healthy environmental outcomes. Requests from Illinois' business and industry organizations for a seat at the table were dismissed.

Before the group's first meeting, Gov. Blagojevich issued a news release announcing his goal to slash greenhouse gas to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. These goals weren't in the executive order establishing the group; group members weren't told of the announcement or his goals before the release.

Thus, advisory group members discovered a critical component of their expected recommendations was decided before they started.

Furthermore, ground rules at their first meeting limited them to how to best meet the governor's greenhouse gas reduction targets from a list of suggested options. Parameters for their agenda disallowed discussion or consideration of any federal approaches.

Some appointees must have wondered when the advisory capacity of their group would be honored since two major elements were pre-empted.

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency staff is preparing a report and recommendations; this draft hasn't gone to group members. Although expected any time, there is no announced time or location for the report's release, the next advisory group meeting or any public hearings or input prior to adoption of a final report.

The panel found five issues particularly controversial  controversial because, as recommended, they did not make good business sense to group members representing labor and industry.

One recommendation called for a state cap-and-trade program for emissions reductions. Cap and trade means CO2 producers have limits on emissions and credits for being under the limits. Producers can trade credits for emissions over the limit. This could cost utilities and ratepayers $1 to $2 billion annually. This is aimed at coal-fired electric generating facilities, but could apply to any on-site generation capacity.

Another recommendation would pursue auto emission standards that exceed California's, the most stringent in the country. Economists predict adopting California standards could add $3,000 or more to the price of a new car purchased in Illinois.

The three remaining controversial recommendations are for CO2 emission performance standards for new electricity generation, carbon offsets for new fossil fuel power generation, and carbon capture and storage standards.

These recommendations represent a slap in the face to Illinois coal, a valuable, bountiful Illinois natural resource. Proposed emission standards would negate the market for Illinois coal to be burned in-state and could result in existing Illinois power plant shutdowns. Future energy generation from coal is tied to investment in clean coal technologies such as coal gasification and carbon sequestration; the group's recommendations affront the transition and survival of an industry vital to our energy future.

Voting on the five controversial recommendations saw each pushed through along interest group lines: environmentalists and government representatives voted in favor, business and labor interests against. Grant the governor this, he is a uniter: business and labor are united against these recommendations as they would severely affect energy costs, business investment and jobs in Illinois.

While cap-and-trade programs and auto emissions standards, if adopted in reasonable and achievable approaches, are commendable, these recommendations would apply to Illinois only. Yet the key word in this important debate is global.

Whatever your opinions are on climate change, you probably recognize that the actions of one state won't cut global emissions in spite of the compliance burden and billions in costs they would place on Illinois' employers and consumers.

Carbon dioxide has no zip code. If Illinois unilaterally regulates industry until the cost of doing business leaves owners and investors little choice but to move to less costly, more business-friendly locations, they will. The consulting firm hired by the IEPA reported to the group that results of an Illinois-only solution will yield no significant change in greenhouse gas emissions. They concluded that electric generation and commerce will continue to occur, just not in Illinois.

Although advisory group members were forbidden from even whispering of them, there are significant federal efforts underway aimed at addressing climate change. Much greater impact on greenhouse gas could be derived from nationwide and international efforts than a patchwork approach by a handful of states.

As serious as climate change is, it is unfortunate this group's plan is an economic Trojan horse. It is Gov. Blagojevich's latest pursuit that garners headlines but fails to yield value. Like these recommendations, previous initiatives to buy foreign drugs, import flu vaccine, provide universal health care, prohibit violent video games and impose a gross receipts tax on employers result only in costly outlays of taxpayer dollars while sending an anti-business, anti-growth message.

- Doug Whitley is president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (312) 983-7100 or dwhitley@ilchamber.org.

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