Cook County is fighting climate change. But it needs help.

By Cook County Commissioner Kevin B. Morrison (District 15) and U.S. Representative Sean Casten (D-Downers Grove)

Last year, record-breaking rainfall drenched Cook County and Northeastern Illinois. The downpour set off flooding on streets and in houses, leaving several families homeless, stranded, and desperate.

Unfortunately, torrential rain, derechos, and other extreme weather will continue to impact our region as the effects of climate change rapidly become more serious and more severe.

The climate crisis is an urgent and existential threat. This month, the Cook County Board passed a resolution updating its renewable energy goals. The resolution comes after the county launched in February the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program, which provides financing to commercial property owners for clean energy projects. Cook County also adopted an ambitious Clean Energy Plan last year that sets clean energy benchmarks, such as making Cook County facilities carbon neutral by 2050 and achieving 100% clean electricity in county-owned buildings by 2030.

But local governments can only do so much. They do not have the spending power or regulatory authority to enact sweeping change. Cook County–and local governments like it–need transformative action from Congress to help address this global crisis at the federal level because floods and wildfires don’t stop at county and state borders.

President Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan is a clear step in the right direction.

The plan would help local governments build cleaner, more sustainable, and healthier communities by injecting money into local economies and bolstering clean energy infrastructure.

Biden’s plan seeks to invest in highways, public transit, and clean water. For Illinois — which received a C- grade on its Infrastructure Report Card for its 2,374 bridges and over 6,218 miles of highway in poor condition, which cost drivers an average of $609 each year, and its estimated $50 billion in damages from 48 extreme weather events over the past decade — the impact would be massive.

If passed, the bill will make desperately needed investments in our roads, bridges, transportation, and water systems. It would provide funding to improve resiliency, support communities recovering from natural disasters, and could result in the construction of more than 600,000 new water lines across the state.

Without federal action to help fix the highways, broadband, and energy we rely on every day, our communities and our economy will suffer. Biden’s plan would provide the assistance we desperately need, recognizing that our crumbling infrastructure is a major reason why transportation as a whole is the leading source of carbon pollution in the United States.

But this is where the infrastructure bill shines: The package seeks to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, which is critical to fighting climate change. It would allow us to find more solutions to reduce emissions by driving innovation, leveraging the federal government’s awesome purchasing power, and developing clean energy technology.

As electric energy demand continues to increase, we need to think critically about how to transition to electricity. The infrastructure bill wisely calls for investing billions in the electric grid and establishing grant and incentive programs for local governments to build more electric vehicle charging stations, allowing local governments to help reduce carbon emissions and truly tackle this crisis.

These sweeping, necessary changes would dramatically improve the lives of Cook County and Illinois residents. But only the federal government can spearhead these measures. Local governments can take small steps to fight against climate change. But we don’t need small steps — we need considerable progress.

The good news is businesses across our region stand to benefit from bold action on climate change — recognizing that by tackling this imminent threat, we have the opportunity to create new jobs in the clean energy sector, invest in struggling and disinvested neighborhoods, provide more economic opportunities for people of color, make utilities cheaper, and build thriving communities.

Economic analysts project that President Biden’s plan will create millions of new jobs, reduce energy costs, and lead to more consumer spending. The transition to a 100% clean energy economy could create up to 25 million good-paying American jobs at a time. In the wake of a pandemic that’s caused record unemployment, this is an opportunity Americans cannot afford to miss.

But Congress must act swiftly, and science must be our guide.

We must do what’s scientifically necessary to fight climate change and what’s economically necessary to build an economy that’s stronger, more equitable, and positioned for growth. If we don’t, Illinoisans will suffer the consequences.

Local governments and businesses are doing what they can. But they can’t do it alone.

Congress must pass the American Jobs Plan.

Representative Casten sits on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the House Subcommittee on Environment. Commissioner Morrison sits on Cook County’s Environment and Sustainability Committee.

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Commissioner Kevin Morrison

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