Still Waiting: Illinois Sees Bipartisan Support For Expanding Natural Gas Service But Governor Has Yet to Sign

Communities and states across the country are analyzing the best paths forward to lower emissions, while ensuring consumers have access to affordable, reliable energy. In Illinois, lawmakers came together and showed strong, bipartisan support for natural gas as a part of that future amid policies that would transition the state away from fossil fuels.

At the end of session, the Illinois state legislature passed House Bill 3404, which will allow natural gas infrastructure to be built to service portions of Pembroke Township, a traditionally rural and low-income community. The bill is still awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature, but once signed will end the community’s years-long struggle for access to affordable energy and hopefully encourage economic development in the area.

Dual-party endorsement for natural gas

Though policymakers spent this session debating increased electrification and phasing out fossil fuel power plants, the bill’s bipartisan House vote (81-25) shows natural gas is still a top priority in the state – and for good reason.

As the number one fuel source used by manufacturers in Illinois, an estimated 1,178.9 trillion Btu (British thermal units) of natural gas were consumed in 2019. Natural gas is the primary source of energy for the state’s manufacturers and its use by businesses has grown by 8 percent since 2019.

Eighty-percent of the state’s households use natural gas for heat, saving residents more than $11 billion from 2007 to 2017. Further, the increased use of natural gas for power generation has helped Illinois’ power sector reduce CO2 emissions by 28 percent since 2012, according to an analysis by the U.S. Chamber’s Global Energy Institute.

As Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodges previously told CBS:

“This community has been overlooked for the past 48 years for natural gas, so we’re in need of industry and we’re in need of jobs, and our school is in need of natural gas.”

He recently explained:

“Every community around us has natural gas. Every community around us has manufacturing. They have stores and more opportunity than we have. This is a disproportionately low-income, minority community.”

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has also been a vocal advocate of the project and legislation because of the need for energy access in the community:

“It is our goal to bring equity to Pembroke including the same amenities the surrounding towns have. These farmers produce enough food to feed most of Chicago. Pembroke has been neglected for decades.”

Now thanks to bipartisan leadership on state and federal levels, Pembroke Township has its best opportunity in decades to have access to the same energy source that heats and fuels so many other Illinois communities.

Currently, existing law allows Nicor Gas to install only 200 feet of natural gas main per customer, but House Bill 3404 would increase the standard to a maximum of 500 feet. Customers in designated hardship areas defined by the U.S. Census Tracts and Department of Housing and Urban Development would be eligible for this change.

In a project estimated to cost $8 million, no charge would be served to customers and Nicor has identified 400 homes and 22 businesses in Pembroke for possible service. Nicor explains:

“By extending a gas pipeline into Pembroke Township, we would not only provide residents with clean, efficient and cost-effective energy choice, but create a foundation for infrastructure development for the entire community.”

What Are They Saying?

According to multiple news outlets, the legislation has been backed at the federal level by Illinois Democrats Sen. Dick Durban and Rep. Robin Kelly. It also received vocal support from a wide range of state and local policymakers and national civil rights leaders.

Rev. Jesse Jackson also said:

“This is a big deal and a new day for Pembroke, a Black farming community that has been left behind in the modern economy. This project will help bring business to Pembroke, and it will help others do business with Pembroke. I thank Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch for his leadership on this issue.”

Rainbow PUSH Coalition Senior Vice President, and Chief of Global Policy, Reverend Dr. S. Todd Yeary said:

“At a time when everyone is focused on the next economy, Pembroke has been left behind in the current economy. This bipartisan effort is a strong statement that Pembroke will be neglected no more. Thanks to Speaker Welch and Senate President Don Harmon, the bill sponsors, members of the Legislative Black Caucus and the General Assembly for listening to the people of Pembroke. We look forward to Governor Pritzker signing the bill into law.”

Illinois State Rep. Jackie Haas (R-Kankakee), author and chief sponsor of the bill, said of the decades-long journey:

“I am thrilled to see this reach the finish line. My staff and I have worked really hard to get to this point, as have countless residents, community stakeholders, advocates, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle at local, state and federal levels of government.”

State Sen. Patrick Joyce (D-Essex) said:

“The good people of Pembroke Township should get some relief via House Bill 3404, which I helped push through the Legislature to bring a natural gas line to the area.”

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andrew Wheeler said:

“Kankakee County is absolutely committed to help bring natural gas to the community. This has been a personal mission of mine for 10 years, and now this is closer to reality than ever before. By extending a gas pipeline into Hopkins Park in Pembroke Township, we would not only provide residents with a clean, efficient and affordable energy source, but we create a foundation for infrastructure and economic development for the entire community.”

While the bill to make this all happen passed the legislature by a wide-margin more than a month ago, the community is still waiting to see if the governor will sign it.

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