On May 7th, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a decision to delay a decision on a permit that would allow General Iron to move to Chicago’s Southeast side, a predominantly Latinx and Black community, until further environmental analysis can be completed by the Chicago Department of Public Health. Environmental justice advocates, who engaged in a month-long hunger strike to stop General Iron’s relocation, are asking for a full denial of the permit. General Iron, a scrap metal shredder repeatedly fined for environmental violations, has responded by filing a lawsuit and asking a federal judge to issue the permit.
Mayor Lightfoot’s decision was made in response to a letter received from U.S. EPA Administrator Regan. Administrator Regan stated:
“Because of these well-known degraded environmental conditions, the siting of this facility in Chicago's southeast side has raised significant civil rights concerns…Prior to reaching a decision on the permit, U.S. EPA suggests that the City complete an environmental justice analysis, such as a Health Impact Assessment, to meaningfully consider the aggregate potential health effects of the proposed RMG facility on the southeast area of Chicago.”
- U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan
Environmental advocates have long urged that community development and permit decisions must be made within the context of cumulative impacts – the combined health and environmental impacts from all sources of pollution in an area, taking into account sociodemographic factors. Emerging definitions also incorporate climate impacts, synergistic links, and historical analysis of systemic oppression. The Southeast side is a case in point - since 2014, U.S. EPA has investigated more than 75 companies in this community. Administrator Regan’s suggestion to consider aggregate health effects is a hopeful step forward.
The City’s Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative is a key opportunity to create new planning and development policies that will support vitality in all neighborhoods. Calumet Connect, a collaborative of environmental and community organizations such as Southeast Environmental Task Force, have made the following recommendations regarding the planning process:
- Use a community engagement process that encourages and uses community feedback, including feedback about health equity;
- Make decisions based on the cumulative impact of development, not the emissions or other impacts of an individual facility;
- Close the loophole that allows industries in the Calumet Industrial Corridor to handle and store hazardous materials without special review;
- Create and enforce policies that reduce the negative public health impacts of warehouse truck traffic;
- Require industrial facilities to plant and maintain landscaping that separates their facilities from nearby residential neighborhoods; and
- Improve the public’s access to information about public health and environmental impacts of industrial activities.
CNT applauds the actions of the tireless environmental justice advocates who have campaigned for a full denial of the permit, and the decision of Mayor Lightfoot to conduct specific environmental analysis and to develop a new cumulative impact ordinance for consideration by the City Council before the end of this year.