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Chicago should lead the way in slowing global warming

It’s time prioritize modernizing UniStatimake this regional rail hub gregateway for Chicago visitors.

It’s time to prioritize modernizing Union Station to make this regional rail hub a great gateway for Chicago visitors.

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Updated: August 28, 2013 4:57PM

A recent Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial [“Global Warming Is Real. It’s Our Fault. Let’s Fix It” — August 21] explains that climate science is conclusive. We need to act now to make a difference. Solving climate change problems is the moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge of our times. Fortunately, there are steps forward that are good for jobs and economic growth and good for our environment and public health.

Chicago should be a leader in advancing smart solutions with innovative modern technologies.

First, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Modern lighting technologies and HVAC systems, Energy Star appliances that keep getting more efficient, and improved pumps and motors avoid pollution, save businesses and people money on utility bills, support retrofitting jobs and keep money in Chicago’s economy.

These efficiency opportunities are no-brainers. Why would anyone favor wasting energy and money?

Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Performance Standards leverages billions of dollars in new efficiency investments, and the City’s Retrofit Chicago program accelerates efficiency improvements in commercial, municipal and multifamily residential buildings. Full speed ahead with both “tried and true” energy efficiency programs and innovations that push the envelope.

Second, let’s shift from old coal plants that emit carbon pollution and, instead, develop more clean, renewable energy generation. The highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants have been shut down, and Chicago’s electricity supply procurement now requires “no coal.” That’s progress. Suburban municipalities should likewise shift away from coal to purchasing more renewable energy. That’s smart for our regional economy and environment.

Third, Chicago is a national and global wind energy hub. We’re home to 13 major wind energy corporate headquarters, just hosted the American Wind Energy Association’s convention and will soon host Solar Power International. Illinois is the nation’s No. 4 state for wind power development and is home to many manufacturing companies that have retooled to make wind energy equipment that’s powering more of the nation.

What’s needed? Illinois’ legislators should update the Renewable Energy Standard statute, which was based on ComEd’s power purchasing before the new wave of municipal aggregations. This modernization will spur more wind and solar energy development. Implementing Chicago’s SunShot plan can remove barriers to distributed solar on building rooftops while also seizing opportunities to convert underutilized industrial “brownfields” into productive solar “brightfields.” That’s a win-win-win: Less pollution, more economic growth and more jobs.

Fourth, cleaner, more efficient cars save us money at the gas pump, reduce carbon pollution and improve national security by cutting oil imports. Federal clean car standards require a fleetwide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. Government and business fleets should purchase more electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles that pollute less and save on fuel prices. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors: Let’s build the next generation of clean cars here in Illinois!

Fifth, the Midwest should catch up to Asia and Europe in developing modern, higher-speed passenger train service that will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. That can transform the region’s transportation infrastructure. The Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network connects 11 major metropolitan areas and more mid-sized cities in-between. There are 460 Midwest rail equipment supply-chain businesses.

What’s needed? Federal transportation investments to upgrade more rail crossings, tracks, bridges, signals and other infrastructure. It’s time to prioritize modernizing Union Station to make this regional rail hub a great gateway for Chicago visitors.

Let’s fix our global warming problems. Chicago should lead the way in advancing solutions that are good for our environmental future and economic growth together.

Howard A. Learner is executive irector of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

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