Updated January 10, 2016

Summary

  • Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) is the most influential anti-nuclear environmental organization in Illinois.

  • Around the world, closing nuclear plants increases pollution and kills high-paying jobs jobs, and yet Illinois’ most powerful environmental group, ELPC, opposed the legislation.

  • ELPC's founder-president, Howard Learner, joined forces with the coal industry coalition, the “BEST Coalition” — a front group for NRG, a big coal generator — to attack the legislation as a “bail-out” for nuclear, something much of the Illinois media dutifully repeated. 

  • While lobbying in the state legislature against efforts to include nuclear plants in Illinois' clean energy mandates, ELPC took $137,500 from natural gas and renewable energy companies that could benefit from ELPC’s efforts to kill nuclear plants.

  • Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a report saying that if Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants are closed, 80 percent of of their replacement output would come from coal and 12 percent from natural gas — a finding that ELPC denies.

  • ELPC has for over 20 years sought to close and block the building of nuclear plants directly and indirectly by lobbying for laws including a state renewable energy mandate that discriminates against nuclear.

The most important of those entities is ELPC, the Environmental Law and Policy Center — a non-profit organization that represents itself as representing the public and environmental interest. ELPC created a “clean jobs coalition” whose allies include Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environment Illinois, Illinois Environment Council and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

All of those groups support subsidizing wind at 2.3 cents/kWh, but complained mightily over supporting the continued operation of Illinois' distressed nuclear plants — until market conditions change — at just 1 cent/kWh. 

Unless something changes, Illinois will go backwards on air pollution, climate change and green jobs. Exelon is expected to announce it will close both Clinton and Quad. If that happens, carbon emissions will rise the equivalent of adding two million cars to the road, and a minimum of 1,400 jobs will be lost.

Earlier this year ELPC raised at least $137,500 from natural gas, renewables or financial companies that would benefit from ELPC’s efforts to kill nuclear plants. ELPC raised it at its dinner where “recognition from the podium” was given by groups like Invenergy, a natural gas and wind company, for investing $10,000 to $25,000 to ELPC.

"Everybody looks with excitement when a new natural gas plant is build," ELPC head, Howard Learner said when justifying his efforts to replace nuclear plants with fossil fuels.

One of ELPC’s key allies in killing the legislation is the coal-funded BEST coalition. Several sources say the energy company NRG has provided large contributions to BEST to kill nuclear and replace it with coal, in addition to natural gas.

In 2012, the Sierra Club admitted it had taken $26 million from natural gas companies after Club activists took the information public.

ELPC is far and away the most powerful and influential environmental organization in the mid-west. ELPC is miles ahead of Sierra Club, NRDC, EDF and Greenpeace in terms of funding (about $6 million a year) and influence in the state capitol (it has a PAC that funds legislators).

ELPC’s talking points about subsidies and bail-outs are repeated by everyone, from Senate Democrats to Illinois’ Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Crane’s Business columnist, Steve Daniels.

Neither ELPC et al, nor Daniels nor Attorney General Madigan have expressed a problem with using subsidies to pad the profits of wind developers, including Exelon, which owns the 8.4 megawatt Agri-Wind farm in Illinois. 

Learner got his start in anti-nuclear advocacy in the mid-1980s when he worked as an attorney suing utilities to block the construction of nuclear plants.

Policymakers and journalists have made much of corporate funding for efforts to kill clean energy. Mostly those efforts have focused on the Koch brothers and Exxon. Fair treatment would require more focus on groups like ELPC and Sierra Club, which have taken money from natural gas companies while fighting nuclear energy, America’s largest source of clean, low carbon power.