Pritzker suspends energy working group as ComEd cooperates with federal prosecutors

Illinois Capitol News

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic from his office at the Illinois State Capitol, Friday, May 22, 2020, in Springfield, Ill. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Four days after learning that ComEd, the state’s largest utility company, has agreed to pay a $200 million fine to avoid criminal charges in an eight-year long bribery scheme that implicated House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle, Governor J.B. Pritzker has suspended the bipartisan Energy Working Group that was considering changes to state energy policies.

In the deferred prosecution agreement filed last week, the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois described an elaborate bribery scheme where ComEd paid $1.3 million to Madigan’s political staff and close allies. The legislature, with Madigan’s blessing, passed two significant pieces of energy legislation during that same eight-year stretch that allowed ComEd to charge customers higher rates for electricity.

“It is imperative that any clean energy legislation in the future has the full confidence of the public,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “The governor was deeply concerned with ComEd’s admissions of wrongdoing and believes all stakeholders need a full understanding of the facts before moving forward. Working group discussions are suspended until further notice. The governor has made clear that any future legislation must protect the environment and consumers, and that it will not be written by utility companies.”

The Energy Working Group met regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays via virtual video conferences to discuss policies and regulations pertaining to the power sector, utility companies, pollution, electric vehicles and renewable energy.

Senator Mike Hastings (D-Tinley Park) chairs the Senate Energy Committee and said in text messages on Tuesday that the panel he oversees will continue to hold hearings across the state throughout the fall, including hearings that involve Vistra Energy’s ‘Coal to Solar’ plan.

Pritzker has called for ComEd and Speaker Madigan to answer to the public for their role in the ongoing corruption investigation.

A spokesperson for Madigan issued a statement last Friday expressing his confidence that documents the U.S. Attorney’s Office sought in a subpoena would “clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper.” In the same statement, Madigan’s spokesperson said he would not make any further comment on the matter, appearing to ignore Pritzker’s calls for a more thorough public accounting for his alleged role in the scheme.

On Tuesday morning, House Republicans called for Pritzker to use his power to call for a special session to address ethics.

“We need to get back to Springfield as quickly as possible to address the serious breaches of ethics within state government,” Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) said in a virtual video press conference.

“We have a massive conflict, a breach of trust in government, and we need to address it,” Wehrli said in a public overture to Pritzker. “Your silence is corruption.”

The Governor has called for Madigan to resigned if the allegations are true, but stopped short of calling for his immediate resignation as speaker or as the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

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