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Lawmakers outline coal-friendly policy overhaul

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SPRINGFIELD -- With Illinois lawmakers discussing a major overhaul of state energy policies this spring, a group of downstate representatives and senators said Thursday they want to make sure the coal industry has a seat at the negotiating table.

In an announcement Thursday, a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers from south of Interstate 80 said they plan to introduce legislation that would jump-start the Illinois coal industry, create 8,000 new jobs, save electric ratepayers as much as $700 million per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“The General Assembly’s consideration of energy legislation this year has been focused on the northern portion of our state, but it’s important to not lose sight of the needs of southern and central Illinois when thinking about a comprehensive energy policy that works for everyone,” said state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.

The tentative plan comes as Exelon, parent company of ComEd is seeking changes in state law it says will help the company keep its nuclear plants in Clinton and Cordova open. A separate plan is seeking to boost the use of so-called "clean energy," such as wind turbines.

The proposal outlined Thursday seeks to make it cheaper for Illinois power plants to burn Illinois coal by removing regulations that allow electric companies to shift the cost of importing Western states’ coal to electric customers.

The proposal also would establish a revenue stream that could pay for scrubbers that would reduce environmentally harmful emissions.

“The time has come to take on Western coal,” said state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill. “Our plan will increase demand for Illinois coal that is more efficient, cuts emissions and supports thousands of downstate jobs."

Others on board with the proposal are state Sens. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and Sam McCann, R-Plainview; and state Reps. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg, Jerry Costello of Smithton, Terri Bryant of Murphysboro, Avery Bourne of Pawnee, John Cavaletto of Salem and C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville.

"We just want to be part of the discussion," Phelps said.

Standing with the lawmakers at Thursday's Statehouse press conference was Roger Dennison, the lead lobbyist for Foresight Energy, a St. Louis-based coal mine company.

Foresight has contributed more than $185,600 to Illinois politicians since Jan. 1.

Phelps, for example, received $2,500 in March.

State campaign records show the company also bought more than $3,200 worth of chili for a Manar fundraiser in March.

The company also helped finance Rauner's inaugural celebration.

(Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043)

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage

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