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Fight over General Iron shows why Chicago must confront environmental racism

We need a green investment and a city where people of color don’t have to choose between having a job or breathing poisons.

A protester attends a rally demanding Mayor Lori Lightfoot deny the final permit that will allow General Iron to move from Lincoln Park, a mostly white neighborhood, to the Southeast Side, which has a mostly Latino population.
A protester attends a rally demanding Mayor Lori Lightfoot deny the final permit to allow General Iron to move from Lincoln Park, a mostly white neighborhood, to the Southeast Side, which has a mostly Latino population.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

We couldn’t agree more with your Nov. 18 editorial, which stated the city should not issue a permit allowing Reserve Management Group to move General Iron’s metal-shredding operation from Lincoln Park to South Deering. General Iron has been, as you say, a “historically bad actor.”

But Friends of the Parks would urge the city to go even further and address the inherent environmental racism that has plagued our Black and Brown neighborhoods for decades. It isn’t just this one move. Little Village, McKinley Park, South Deering and Riverdale are some of the most polluted communities in the city, but not the only ones on the South and West sides.

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes. Letters should be 350 words or less.

Friends of the Parks has a stake in environmental justice. Chicago sets aside open land for parks to provide recreation, refuge and respite. But polluted parks offer little of those ideals. The South Deering site RMG plans to use is a short walk from Rowan Park. And Finkl Steel, another refugee from Lincoln Park as the city cleared the way for the Lincoln Yards development, moved its operations to Burnside, a predominantly Black neighborhood. The plant is within a couple blocks of Burnside and Byrnes parks.

This is nothing new in Chicago, but it needs to stop. We are calling for a process that ends in new policies to bring clean, green investment into the communities that need it the most, while ensuring that those communities don’t have to endure poison air and water as a price for jobs and resources.

We can start with public hearings so the voice of the people is prominent. And let’s end with a process that heads us towards environmental justice. It’s time to for us to move beyond the choice between clean air or adequate revenue. We need a city where people of color don’t have to choose between having a job or breathing poisons.

Juanita Irizarry, executive director, Friends of the Parks

Don’t cancel student debt

Re: the recent letter on why Joe Biden should cancel student debt: I can’t agree. Students take on debt to pay for advanced education and the quid pro quo is that they’ll pay it back with interest when they get employed in a better job than they might have achieved otherwise.

While the economy and the job market may not have turned out how they expected, they learn nothing with a free ride. Here are two better alternatives: Forgive the interest only, which is the major accelerator of debt; or, if we want to stick to forgiving the full debt, the person either serves his/her country or teaches the next generation in some fashion.

Either way, we share the problem.

Rick Bessette, Orland Park

Keep up the voting, America

Most Americans believe that Donald J. Trump has lost the 2020 presidential election and that Trump will eventually concede to Joe Biden. That is the short-range outcome. Trump and the Republicans are focused on a long-term outcome: to de-legitimize elections so that voters won’t have faith in the process and will decide not to vote.

The 2020 election saw record voting numbers. Americans had enough faith in the electoral process to make sure they were registered, apply for mail-in ballots and return them, or stand in line for hours at the polls. All these efforts to vote depended upon their faith that their vote would count toward determining the outcome of the election.

Will we see similar record numbers of voters in 2022 and 2024 ? I hope so. I hope that Americans’ faith in this cornerstone of our democracy will not be destroyed. We need the next two elections to have record numbers of voters again. The survival of our more than 200-year “experiment in democracy” depends on it.

Karen Wagner, Rolling Meadows