Hundreds Rally for Passage of Industrial Permitting Reform, Protections for Power Plant Communities, Voting Rights and more
SPRINGFIELD, IL – More than 500 Illinoisans mobilized today for an environmental justice-focused lobby day and rally. Participants urged their legislators to pass bills that address environmental injustices impacting historically marginalized communities across Illinois. The environmental justice movement strives to ensure communities disproportionately affected by industrial pollution, environmental racism and institutional neglect are protected from environmental and health hazards. Today, Illinoisans raised their voices to make it clear: environmental injustice has no home in Illinois.
In meetings with their members of the Illinois General Assembly, concerned advocates lobbied for the Environmental Justice Act (EJ Act HB4093/SB2906), which would reform the industrial permitting process and give environmental justice communities a greater say in development projects. They also advocated for bills protecting communities that are home to aging power plants (HB4358/SB3073), as well as a technical fix to the historic Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (HB4390/SB3866) and voting rights legislation (SB828).
“Black, Brown and Indigenous communities across Illinois have disproportionately experienced generations of concentrated, toxic industrial pollution resulting in costly, chronic health impacts,” said JD Dixon, rally emcee and environmental justice organizer with the United Congregations of Metro East. “The only way to equitably reform zoning policies that have fueled environmental racism is to give residents more say in the process for rewriting and implementing those policies.”
The EJ Act, an effort led by the Chicago Environmental Justice Network, aims to reform the state’s air permitting processes, give environmental justice communities a greater say in the development projects sited within their communities and require a review of the cumulative impact of proposed air pollution sources.
Trinity Colón, a student leader at George Washington High School (GWHS), said, “Communities of color, particularly young people of color, deserve a real seat at the table when making decisions that could significantly impact our health for decades.” The GWHS campus is located across the street from the relocated General Iron scrap metal recycling facility, whose permit to begin operations was just denied by the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Rally attendees also had the opportunity to voice support for legislation that protects coal communities. As power plants close amidst Illinois’ transition off of fossil fuels to a clean energy future, they leave behind shuttered buildings and smokestacks as well as coal ash ponds, which contain toxic pollutants like heavy metals and carcinogens. Today’s Lobby Day advocates supported two bills that address this toxic legacy.
“Growing up, I didn’t understand the significance of having to stop soccer games to rush an inhaler over to a friend, but I’ve connected the dots since learning that one in three Waukegan children has asthma or asthma-like symptoms,” said Eduardo Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County. “Fossil fuel pollution, including coal ash, has been poisoning my community for too long, and it’s past time for a safe coal ash removal and disposal plan.”
Shuttered power plants remain at seven coal plants across Illinois, and four more will close this year, including the Waukegan Generating Station. The Power Plant Demolition Transparency & Protection Bill (SB3073) would require power plant operators to give advance notice of demolitions, engage with communities before the demolition and ensure air quality monitoring, dust mitigation plans and site clean-up plans are in place.
Lobby Day participants also noted the need for a small technical edit to the nation-leading climate and equity bill passed last year, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). HB4390/SB3866 would ensure that the utilities can raise the full $180 million negotiated, which is necessary to support the programs established in CEJA.
“While the legislation may be small in size, its impact could not be more critical to the very heart of what the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act set out to achieve,” said Naomi Davis, founder of Blacks in Green. “This minor update is a no-brainer to carry out the promised workforce development and key equitable jobs programs within CEJA.”
Finally, rally-goers cheered on legislation that would restore the right to vote for qualifying individuals who have interacted with the justice system, expanding democracy, a key component of securing environmental protections in communities where they are needed most.
“With roughly 30,000 people incarcerated in Illinois prisons, this bill is critical to ensuring that every Illinoisan has the ability to participate in democracy and in the green economy,” said Alexandria Boutros, community organizing director with Chicago Votes. “When people feel heard, represented and connected to their communities, our democracy flourishes and environmental protections are more easily reached.”