One of Bruce Rauner's first appointments as Governor is a troubling sign for citizens hoping he'll protect the public and environment from toxic pollutants. Rauner's new Policy Adviser for Environment & Energy is Alec Messina, previously Executive Director and registered lobbyist for the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group (IERG).
At IERG, Messina represented the interests of some of the state's largest polluters, including Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil, Chris Cline's Foresight Energy, Prairie State Generating Company, Dynegy Midwest Generation, Ameren, ADM and others. Messina previously worked for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency during the Blagojevich administration.
IERG was founded by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to help their members study and influence regulation. They comment on proposed rules and often assist companies that argue for delaying compliance. The group has argued for expediting and "streamlining" the process of attaining permits for major sources of pollution in order to create a more business-friendly climate.
Rauner's report released this week outlining an agenda for the state echoes those demands in its recommendations for energy and the environment. Although the report avoids the overused "all of the above energy" cliche, it suggests policies similar to Quinn and Blagojevich that would promote renewable energy as well as dirty sources, including coal and fracked gas.
The report criticizes the time it takes for agencies to approve permits and recommends cutting "unnecessary energy and environmental policies that impede business." There are no specifics about whether speedy permitting would be achieved by limiting public involvement and thorough study. Messina's background dealing with regulatory minutia gives him the expertise to make obscure, subtle rule changes that could have profound impacts on the environment and public health.
On the positive side, Ruaner's team emphasizes energy efficiency with healthy criticism of the state for failing to meet its reduction goals. However, it also calls for increasing energy exports. Promoting efficiency and renewable energy within Illinois won't bring relief to communities impacted by increased extraction of fossil fuels intended for export. Additionally, the report calls for increasing staff to quickly approve permits for fracking, but doesn't mention hiring additional staff to enforce compliance with the new law.
Rauner distinguished himself among Republicans during the campaign by acknowledging the scientific reality of climate change. Yet, Rauner's report includes more than a dozen calls for changing the business climate while making no mention of addressing the global climate crisis.
Despite some negative signals, Rauner won't have an easy time compiling a worse record than departing Governor Pat Quinn, whose most significant actions on energy policy include launching fracking, expanding coal mining, creating new coal subsidies, and giving a pollution waiver to five aging coal power plants.