Reports & Analysis

2023 Chicago Transition Report Analysis

IEC's City Programs Director, Iyana Simba, provides an in depth analysis of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson's Transition Report, with attention to Environmental Justice goals for the city.

In July, newly elected Mayor Brandon Johnson released the 2023 Chicago Mayoral Transition Report. The document essentially highlights the Mayor’s values and gives us an idea of what his administration will prioritize between his first 100 days and the end of his term. Luckily, the report, in many ways, mirrors IEC’s 2023 Chicago Environmental Mayoral Report, which outlines key environmental issues and their policy solutions. 

Moreover, the Mayor’s top priorities largely align with those we expressed to him and his team prior to taking office–make Chicago’s buildings electric and efficient, address cumulative environmental impacts, re-establish the Department of Environment, expedite Lead Service Line Replacement, and revitalize the CTA system. Additionally, the report includes most of the recommendations IEC and our partners put forth. This is thanks to the hard work of the 400 Chicagoans who were appointed to help draft the Mayoral Report, including many of IEC’s affiliate members and IEC’s very own- City Programs Director Iyana Simba and Climate Policy Director Dany Robles. 

This analysis will summarize the goals of the Environmental Justice platform of the report and the progress toward these issues so far. Moreover, we hope this analysis serves as a tool to hold the newly elected Mayor accountable for the promises made in the report. We will continue to support the administration’s efforts to reach the goals and metrics we helped co-author.  

Goal #1 Ensure effective Environmental Justice oversight and responsiveness

Chicago has a long history of racist policies and zoning, permitting, and planning practices that have historically placed polluting industries disproportionately in Chicago’s low-income Black and Latinx communities. The current setup of city government allows polluters to repeatedly violate already lax laws and face little penalties. Moreover, Neighbors for Environmental Justice recently studied over 20 years of data and found the City’s enforcement policy provides little incentive for companies to comply, and the city is often willing to negotiate tickets with large companies. A serious policy overhaul is underway to undo these practices. 

Under this goal, the Mayor’s Office has set the following priorities:

  • Deliver on commitments outlined in the Environmental Justice Executive Order 2023-3 issued by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot days before she left office. 
    • Complete cumulative impact assessment (CIA)– a report that will detail how environmental burdens, health conditions, and social stressors vary across Chicago and identify neighborhoods that experience the greatest cumulative impacts. Findings from the report are to be presented via public hearings by the end of October. 
    • Pass a strong cumulative impacts ordinance and complimentary ordinances, requiring the city to factor in a more holistic understanding of pollution– including prior and neighboring pollution– when making permitting decisions. 
  • The Department of Planning and Development puts together updated zoning regulations, such as alteration or elimination of permitted-by-right or special use status for manufacturing, recycling, waste-related, and other intensive industrial land uses, which have been historically used to support the concentration of dirty industry in environmental justice (EJ) communities.
  • Restrict new or renewed permitting for pollution sources in EJ Neighborhoods.

What’s new, and how to plug in? → 

  • The City and several EJ community partners are hosting in-person events to get feedback on the CIA initiative throughout the city. Check out for upcoming in-person engagement sessions hosted by the Chicago Environmental Justice Network and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). 
  • While the Cumulative Impact Initiative is underway, EJ communities still face environmental threats. Recently, a Department of Administrative Hearings, Judge Mitchell Ex, overruled the CDPH’s decision to deny an operating permit and relocation of Southside Recycling (formerly General Iron) from Lincoln Park to the East Side, a community already plagued by industry pollution. The City of Chicago has since then filed an appeal of the decision.

Goal # 2 Reinstate the Department of Environment

Last year, IEC launched a campaign to reinstate the Department of Environment, and while funding for a Department was not included in the FY2023, the budget did establish the Office of Climate and Environmental Equity (OCEE). The transition report provides a pathway from the OCEE to a full-standing Department and includes many of the elements we’d like to see in a new Department–- strong Commissioner, increased inspection overseen by the Department, and co-governance with EJ communities.

Under this goal, the Mayor’s Office has set the following priorities:

  • Create a Department of Environment and match or exceed funding for the previous Department: $5 million budget.
  • Create a Deputy Mayor for Environmental Justice. Creating this position would be significant as Deputy Mayor positions reflect a policy priority of the Mayor. 
  • Reinstate the role, directive, and coordinating power of the Chief Sustainability Officer back to the Mayor’s Office. Departments and their Commissioners alone are powerful; however, the Mayor’s Office ultimately guides their work. IEC would like to see a permanent environmental position in the Mayor’s Office. 

What’s new, and how to plug in? → 

  • The City of Chicago recently closed out its Environmental Governance Study to gather feedback on ways to best organize Chicago’s environmental functions. Results from the study are to be reported to the City Council and presented to the public later this fall.  
  • Go back and look at IEC’s blog and a Q&A video that answers why Chicago got rid of the previous Department of Environment and why we need a new one now!

Goal #3 Achieve a Green New Deal for Water

Chicago has an abundance of water resources from Lake Michigan to the Chicago, Calumet, and Desplaines Rivers–but it’s home to a host of water issues. There are still nearly 400,000 lead service lines delivering water to people’s homes, many residents struggle to afford their water, and our aging stormwater system pushes untreated water into our waterways and into people’s basements. 

Under this goal, the Mayor’s Office has set the following priorities:

  • Achieve replacement of 40,000 Lead Service Lines by 2027
    • Accelerate lead service line replacement in a manner that’s free or low cost to residents; prioritize childcare facilities, schools, and communities experiencing cumulative lead exposure.
  • Develop a regional watershed-based stormwater management strategy. 
  • Strengthen the Department of Water Management’s commitment to public service, equity, transparency, and authentic community engagement toward delivering safe, clean, affordable water to all and proactively implementing climate resilience strategies.
  • Build workforce opportunities with community organizations, including a training-to-contracting pipeline that ensures the City’s water infrastructure work is supplied by diverse contractors from majority Black and Brown communities impacted most by water injustice.
  • Partner with local stakeholders to restore neglected parts of Chicago’s shoreline using green and natural infrastructure solutions, prioritizing actions that reduce coastal hazards and risks to people and built infrastructure.
  • Advance programs, projects, and policies with community organizations and stakeholders to increase green stormwater infrastructure construction across the City and develop a clear strategy and budget for the implementation and long-term maintenance of green stormwater infrastructure.  
  • Implement Great Rivers Chicago recommendations to meet Clean Water Act water quality rules. You can read their full list of recommendations here

What’s new, and how to plug in?  

Goal #4 Secure a just transition to an equitable decarbonized Chicago

The 2022 Climate Action Plan (see IEC’s analysis on it here) commits Chicago to curb its emissions by 62% by 2040. Electrifying Chicago’s buildings–a source of more than two-thirds of Chicago’s emissions–and transportation system are the most substantial ways to reach that goal. 

Under this goal, the Mayor’s Office has set the following priorities:

  • Accelerate a Just Transition to Clean Buildings
    • Require all new buildings and major renovations to use efficient, all-electric equipment and build rooftop solar-ready infrastructure starting in July 2025 to align with the building code update.
    • Establish energy performance targets for reduced energy use and on-site greenhouse gas emissions standards for buildings over 25k sq/ft. and require that buildings meet the standard by 2040 with interim emissions reductions targets.
    • Create an ordinance to implement a building performance standard for new building construction to guide the city’s transition from indoor fossil fuel use.
    • Develop policies to retrofit existing buildings, including measures to address indoor air pollution by transitioning away from fossil fuel heating, cooling, and cooking.
  • Create and secure family-sustaining green jobs with worker protections and wealth-building opportunities for frontline workers and historically disinvested people.
  • Provide Affordable, Accessible, Clean Transportation for All 
    • Invest in Equitable Transit Oriented Development.  
    • Require new truck-intensive facilities, including warehouses, to be electric truck-ready. 
    • Provide dedicated and sustainable funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure through the establishment of a Chicago Bike and Walk Fund.
  • Commit to and enforce no-diesel-truck-traffic streets in residential communities.

In addition to the Mayor’s goal for an electrified Chicago, you can also find an entire pillar on clean and equitable transportation in the 2023 Transition Report; for a full rundown of what transportation priorities made it into the report, you can read a summary from Axios Chicago here.

What’s new, and how to plug in? → 

  • With recent gas and electricity rate hikes, our city needs a planned transition for our buildings to become safer, cleaner, more affordable to heat and cool, and better for our climate. In July, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition launched the Clean and Affordable Buildings Campaign to push Chicago to adopt a building electrification policy.
  • If you want to electrify your car and home now, check out Rewiring America’s consumer guide and Citizens Utility Board’s Better Heat Guide

Goal # 5 Guarantee utilities are provided in a fair, equitable, and affordable manner with an investment emphasis in communities facing the greatest utility burden today

Just as is the case with water bills, many Chicagoans struggle to pay their electricity and gas bills, particularly in Black, Brown and working-class communities. This is especially true as we face increasing fossil fuel prices and more extreme weather that requires more cooling and heating power.

Under this goal, the Mayor’s Office has set the following priorities:

  • Ensure a strong franchise agreement with provisions for more than $100 million in shareholder dollars for community-based climate infrastructure projects in environmental justice and R3 communities, customer financial assistance and debt relief, and a community energy and equity advisory council as one part of a multi-layered oversight strategy.
  • Prohibit utility shutoffs, expand robust and non-onerous assistance programs, and ban the practice of placing liens on people’s homes due to nonpayment of water bills.
  • Increase funding into Chicago’s Meter Save program to ensure all households have access to speedy, safe meter installation, which is proven to lower water bills. 
  • Implement a reformed water rate structure that incorporates multiple customer classes; tiered, usage-based rates; income-based affordability programs; and other potential features for all water customers within the City of Chicago
  • Pursue a second phase municipalization study to further explore how the City could municipalize its electric distribution service to support decarbonization and utility justice goals. 

What’s new, and how to plug in?  

  • Those struggling to afford their water bill can still apply to the Utility Billing Relief (UBR) Program, which was made permanent in 2022. The program provides a 50% discount on water and sewer charges for low-income homeowners and debt forgiveness for those who successfully complete the program after a year. 
  • At July’s City Council Hearing, Alderperson Daniel La Spata (1st Ward) re-introduced the Water for All ordinance that, if passed, would create a tiered discounted water rate, including a 100% discount for very low-income Chicagoans and extend water assistance eligibility to renters.

Goal # 6 Achieve a Green New Deal for Schools

Mayor Johnson envisions Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to be transformed into zero-emission, healthy buildings, serving as hubs connecting the community to essential services. Rooftop solar panels and school gardens will teach students about science, preparing them for green jobs. 

Under this goal, the Mayor’s Office has set the following priorities:

  • Utilize utility energy, gas, and water efficiency programs for every CPS Building.
  • Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) develops a plan addressing asthma and other health impacts from pollution in schools.
  • Fully fund retrofits for schools in the lower third of the CDC’s Social Vulnerability index.

What’s new, and how to plug in? → 

  • In 2020, the Chicago Teachers Union, the group that played a large role in Mayor Johnson’s win, launched the Green Schools Campaign to provide clean and healthy learning environments free from toxins, with modern energy-efficient features.

Additional Ideas/Recommendations 

These are topics that were not included in Mayor Johnson’s original campaign platform but were highlighted as issues included in the report.

Food Justice

The connection between food access and security is closely tied to environmental and racial justice. A significant disparity exists, with 37% of Black residents and 29% of Latinx residents experiencing food insecurity, compared to 19% of the overall population. To address these inequalities, the City must prioritize a fair food system, take action to reduce climate impacts and capitalize on the growth of local food sources as a means of building resilience.

  • Continue the Chicago Food Equity Council, launched in 2021 and aimed at supporting local healthy foods and urban agriculture initiatives, build its capacity, and permanently secure it via ordinance. 
  • Utilize inter-agency collaboration with Chicago Food Equity Council in support of local food systems as a key pathway to reaching City climate goals, including creating a staff position focused on food justice and food systems in the Department of Environment, Department of Planning and Development, CDPH, and OCEE


Chicagoans produce more than 4 million tons of waste annually, only 9% of that is recycled and the rest ends up in landfills and waterways– worse yet, 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the Great Lakes every year. 

  • Contract an independent evaluation of the Managed Competition system with recommendations for improvements, restructuring, or an alternative way of managing waste and recycling hauling
  • Prohibit City facilities from purchasing plastic and polystyrene service ware, plastic bags, and bottles and encourage conversion to reusable options that support a circular economy.

Open Space and Biodiversity

The existence of freely accessible natural areas within Chicago directly impacts air quality, quality of life, and the overall environment. Unfortunately, the rapid urbanization of surrounding regions has led to a decline in open spaces, including parks, forest preserves, conservation areas, and recreational spaces. Preserving and promoting these spaces is essential to counteract this trend.

  • Expand Bureau of Forestry funding, including tree planting and care for city trees. 
  • Update City’s Sustainable Development Policy to incorporate bird-friendly design
  • Execute collaborative City-wide and regional approach to wildlife monitoring and management.

In all, the 2023 Chicago Mayoral Transition Report reflects many of the priorities and recommendations environmental advocates have put forward. IEC will continue to work with the Johnson Administration and hold the City accountable to the goals outlined in the report.

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