(Springfield, IL) – March 14, 2011. With no fanfare, Governor Pat Quinn today quietly vetoed two controversial bills that aimed to give state backing to the construction of two coal gasification plants in Illinois, one in downstate Jefferson County and the other in Cook County’s Calumet City, that backers claimed would generate thousands of new jobs.
Quinn’s vetoes brought swift and sure applause from the state’s top environmental advocacy group.
“We applaud Governor Quinn’s veto of ratepayer bailouts for two risky, dirty coal plants,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Sierra Club. “Governor Quinn has long been a champion for clean energy and for consumers, and the special interest legislation for Leucadia and Power Holdings were bad for both.”
In vetoing legislation for the Calumet City plant, the least controversial of the two, Quinn criticized the financial risks and burdens to be borne by consumers.
“This bill, Senate Bill 3388, exposes citizens throughout Illinois to the long-term risks of fluctuating energy prices. To ensure greater consumer protection, consumers should be given full priority to access any reserve account and a more substantial financial commitment to the account should be made,” wrote Quinn in his veto message released late in the day.
“By requiring utilities to enter substantially equal sourcing agreements, this bill also places the burden of higher energy costs on a small group of residential consumers.”
The proposed $3 billion plant, which would be built at a 140-acre site at 116th Street and Burley, Avenue was estimated to generate about 2,000 jobs during construction and 200 permanent jobs.
Despite his veto, Quinn went out of his way to console the bill’s legislative sponsors and fellow Chicago Democrats.
“Though I do not approve of the bill before me, I do acknowledge the hard work of Senator Donne Trotter and Representative Marlow Colvin. They have worked hard to move our State forward and I am appreciative of their efforts,” wrote Quinn.
In turning thumbs down on the Jefferson County plant, Quinn cited the risk of cost overruns and an unequal distribution of the project’s cost between consumers and businesses.
“Our state, with its abundance of coal and cutting-edge technologies, is positioned to take the lead. However, our investments in clean coal must not come at the expense of consumers,” Quinn stated in his veto message.
“Not only must new projects and policies be designed to improve our environment and expand our economy, they must also distribute burdens more proportionally among residential users and businesses and provide greater protections against cost overruns and higher energy prices. Unfortunately, the bill before me today falls short of these goals.”
Proponents of the Jefferson County plant predicted that project would create 1,500 construction jobs and 700 permanent coal industry positions.
A consumer watchdog group, which Quinn had helped found, also criticized the financial risks to consumers.
“We’re looking at a ticking time bomb for gas bills,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board.
Quinn may face another sort of explosion—the political anger that is likely to erupt among his Democratic allies in the legislature.