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Air polluters would face more scrutiny under ordinance approved by Council committee

The proposed law would call for environmental and traffic assessments before industrial zoning permits are issued, but critics say it should go further.

MAT Asphalt located at 2055 West Pershing Rd. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top environmental adviser previously cited the opening of an asphalt plant in McKinley Park as a reason to change zoning rules.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s long-promised ordinance increasing regulations on companies that release pollution into the air passed out of a City Council committee Monday amid criticism from environmental groups who say the proposal is weak.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), who opposed an earlier version of the mayor’s proposal but joined the majority to approve the measure, 14-4.

The proposed ordinance aims to include more environmental and traffic reviews for new zoning permits for industrial sites, including manufacturing and various types of recycling. It also calls for public meetings. Environmental groups wanted stronger provisions and more scrutiny of warehouse developments.

Last July, Lightfoot said she would push a zoning ordinance to change the way heavy industry is sited around residential areas. The initial announcement came during an online town hall to discuss the proposed move of General Iron to the Southeast Side.

In September, details of the measure were made public. Industrial polluters would face more requirements and scrutiny before they set up near schools, homes and parks. But when the ordinance was considered in the City Council’s zoning committee in October, there was little support for it and some aldermen said it was too onerous for the businesses. At the time, Chairman Tom Tunney ordered the measure be held in committee for a rewrite.

The proposal was watered down too much, critics say.

“I think it could be harmful to pass something that seems like reform but it really isn’t,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said.

Hadden, who voted against the measure, noted that environmental groups had soured on the mayor’s proposal.

“Instead of developing a comprehensive air quality ordinance that seeks to truly address zoning’s impacts on communities or take into consideration the cumulative effects of industrial sites on air pollution and public health, the Mayor’s ordinance falls far short of what our communities deserve,” a letter from the umbrella organization Illinois Environmental Council and several other groups said.

The letter added: “When asked to show real leadership in addressing environmental justice and improving transparency, this move instead makes both these problems worse.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.