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Mayor Lightfoot promised environmental justice, but the city’s actions say the opposite

The city’s actions on General Iron, Hilco, electric buses and an asphalt plant in McKinley Park are cause for great concern on air quality in communities of color.

A cloud of dust spread across Little Village after the shuttered Crawford Coal Plant smoke stack was imploded on April 11, 2020.
A cloud of dust spread across Little Village after the shuttered Crawford Coal Plant smoke stack was imploded on April 11, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Despite repeated declarations of a commitment to environmental justice, recent actions by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other Chicago officials cast doubt on the strength of that pledge.

Just over two months ago, the city released its Healthy Chicago 2025 public health agenda. It explicitly prioritizes communities disproportionately impacted by air pollution, and it aims to increase the buffers between where people live and where manufacturing and industry are located.

Weeks earlier, the Chicago Department of Public Health issued an air quality report that found communities on the south and west sides are the most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. The report reiterated the city’s commitment to advancing environmental justice and addressing the city’s most pressing environmental challenges.

With these two reports and public commitments in mind, consider these recent actions.

  • City officials are pushing forward with plans to allow the General Iron metal shredding facility to move from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side. The Lincoln Park site had two explosions in May and was cited 11 times in the past year for pollution and nuisance law violations.
  • Officials have allowed the operation of a McKinley Park asphalt plant with no community input. The facility has been inspected more than 50 times due to odorous emissions and received three violation notices. The pollution has been cited by city officials as justification for denying an affordable housing development in this low-income neighborhood.
  • After failing to prevent a disastrous implosion of a power plant smokestack that covered Little Village in dust, the city not only approved but subsidized the building of a 1 million-square-foot retail logistics center that will bring with it traffic and more air pollution from hundreds of diesel trucks on a daily basis. Community objections were roundly dismissed.
  • Even though the mayor publicly committed during her campaign to get a clean, all-electric Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus fleet by 2030, CTA was allowed to issue an RFP to purchase up to 600 additional diesel buses over the next several years. It is well-established that electric buses will dramatically reduce pollution and save lives. The first 100 diesel buses are expected to be purchased in the next few months, delaying investment in clean buses.

While the city’s stated commitment to health equity and environmental justice are admirable, actions speak louder than words.

The city’s most recent actions tell a tale of maintaining the status quo and are cause for great concern.

Erica Salem, MPH, senior director of strategy, programs and policy
Respiratory Health Association

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Duckworth’s vote

In choosing to vote “no” on the waiver Joe Biden is seeking for his defense secretary pick, Gen. Lloyd Austin, I have newfound respect for Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Two years ago, her “no” vote on the waiver President Trump sought, and eventually won, for Gen. James Mattis seemed partisan politics. This time around, it is clear her aim is protecting the law for the purpose it was written.

This process of skirting the law to install a hand-picked Cabinet member who does not meet the proper requirements is inherently flawed by the hyper-partisan atmosphere that surrounds our federal government. If Biden succeeds, the country will have two defense secretaries in a row who did not meet the requirement of being seven years out of the military. That continues a dangerous precedent started by Trump.

Austin may be a fine man and soldier, and Biden seems determined to have a very diverse Cabinet. But Duckworth is very clear on her reason: Civilian control of the military is essential. It’s too bad the majority of our House members will likely choose party over policy, just like two years ago.

Scot Sinclair, Third Lake