It’s “State of the State” Season: Time to Check in on Midwest Governors’ Climate and Clean Energy Progress

January 23, 2020 | 3:38 pm
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James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer are both scheduled to give their State of the State addresses on January 29th.

As this is also the beginning of a new year, it’s also a good time to check-in on the climate and clean energy actions of some of the new Midwestern governors who took office last year—and what to look for with respect to next steps by their administrations and state legislatures.


Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker

In 2019, Governor Pritzker joined Illinois into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of states committed to upholding the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. He also signed into law bills passed by the Illinois General Assembly, allowing the state to set its own limits on greenhouse gas pollution and to create Illinois regulations on coal ash pollution from coal-fired power plants. Governor Pritzker also signed a $40 billion capital plan that provides new funding for solar, wind, energy efficiency, and low-income electric vehicle infrastructure.


My colleague Jessica Collingsworth has written about the urgent need for Illinois to act on clean energy legislation in 2020, and how a recent decision by federal energy regulators will result in consumers paying more on their electric bills for power generated from fossil fuel plants. By passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), we can protect Illinois consumers while advancing bold clean energy targets. The time is now for Governor Pritzker to help lead the state forward and champion this important legislation.


Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Like Illinois, Governor Whitmer also took important action early in her administration by entering Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance. She also created the Michigan Office of Climate and Energy within the State’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy. Additionally, in 2019 Governor Whitmer made two new appointments to the three-member Michigan Public Service Commission, and she chose candidates with solid experience and knowledge of clean energy technologies.

Now Governor Whitmer can seize the opportunity to build on these initial steps through additional executive actions related to climate change and carbon pollution reduction efforts. Advocates are also calling on Michigan to join the growing number of states pursuing 100 percent clean energy goals. Governor Whitmer can expand her leadership by supporting these efforts and collaborating with legislators to chart Michigan’s long-term clean energy future.


In addition to maintaining Minnesota’s participation in the U.S. Climate Alliance, Governor Tim Walz’s 2019 actions on climate and energy included an important proposal  for Minnesota to adopt a goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz

He also stepped forward to announce that the state would implement “clean car” standards including provisions for low-emission and zero-emission vehicles—which helps provide crucial Midwestern leadership in reducing transportation emissions. Finally, Governor Walz rounded out the year by establishing a Climate Change Subcabinet and a Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change.

Minnesota, however, was not able to pass key clean energy legislation in 2019. Governor Walz should look for ways to continue building support for enactment of progressive policies such as establishing a 100% clean energy requirement and greater support for the equitable deployment of energy storage technologies.

Midwest Governors Key to Climate Progress

My colleagues and I have written about the importance of the Midwest region, the impacts extreme heat events will bring to vulnerable communities, and how record amounts of Midwest precipitation in 2019 was financially crushing to farmers. Midwest states must continue their leadership and progress on climate and clean energy, and their governors should use 2020 as the year to make their mark on these significant issues. The time for action is now.

About the author

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James Gignac is Midwest Senior Policy Manager for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Prior to joining UCS, Mr. Gignac served as environmental and energy counsel and as assistant attorney general to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, where he worked on a variety of regulatory, legislative, and litigation matters involving clean energy, climate change, and environmental protection.