After federal investigators exposed the unjust concentration of industrial pollution in Black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago last year, Mayor Brandon Johnson pledged a comprehensive overhaul of the city's zoning, planning, and land-use ordinances that have sustained racial segregation for decades. Yesterday, the Mayor unveiled ambitious proposals aimed at tackling pollution burdens in the city's environmental justice neighborhoods.
Among the proposals are new policies and regulations in city departments that focus on enhancing response times to environmental complaints, air monitoring initiatives, and air pollution reduction measures. The Johnson administration is also urging the City Council to pass laws related to planning and zoning, making it more difficult to continue placing polluting businesses in the same communities that have historically suffered as reported in Chicago Sun Times. Johnson's proposals also encompass better public engagement around planning and development, and investments in so-called environmental justice communities – areas that receive a disproportionate share of pollution.
Stood today among environmental justice giants @OBauti @LVEJO and Cheryl Johnson, daughter of Mother of Environmental Justice, Hazel Johnson, to release our first Cumulative Impact Assessment so all residents can live in healthy, sustainable communities.https://t.co/p7cZdNeVb9 pic.twitter.com/wIdC2O0Lds— Mayor Brandon Johnson (@ChicagosMayor) September 19, 2023
As the Chicago Tribune reported, the policy changes proposed by Johnson have emerged after years of organizing by neighborhood groups and their attorneys. These groups persuaded federal officials to intervene after the city facilitated a deal that allowed a troubled scrap shredder to close near wealthy, largely white Lincoln Park on the North Side and relocate to the low-income, predominantly Latino and Black Southeast Side. Under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot had to deny the permit needed for the company's new shredder. The permit denial was overturned in June but is being appealed by Johnson's administration.
In response to a civil rights complaint filed by federal housing officials, Lightfoot had agreed to update the city's zoning ordinances before her term drew to a close. Brandon Johnson's proposals are building on these efforts by implementing a comprehensive approach to address the cumulative impacts of pollution on neighborhoods. His administration has already begun stepping up enforcement of pollution complaints and broadening community outreach, while also tapping into newly available federal funds to deploy air quality monitors throughout the city.
Olga Bautista, who leads the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said, the mayor's plan "is not going to solve everything, but it does put forward the issues.", as mentioned in the Chicago Tribune. Cheryl Johnson, who leads People for Community Recovery from the South Side public housing development, emphasized that the goal extends beyond one community and is ultimately about achieving environmental quality for everyone in the city.