Chicago Environmental Justice Network Puts Forward Proposal to Address Cumulative Pollution Impact on Environmental Justice Communities

Bill would protect environmental justice communities from further industrial pollution

(SPRINGFIELD, IL) – The Chicago Environmental Justice Network and the Pritzker administration today reaffirmed their commitment to community-based environmental justice efforts. HB4093, introduced by Rep. Sonya Harper, creates an enhanced community engagement process when considering permits for new, large air pollution sources in environmental justice communities and requires the review of the cumulative impact of air pollution sources as a part of the permitting process.

Environmental justice communities are communities that experience disproportionate levels of environmental harms and risks, and are more likely to be communities where Black, indigenous, and people of color live.

This bill was developed with the Chicago Environmental Justice Network (CEJN) with the support of Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency; it aims to make holistic reforms to Illinois’ permitting laws by giving communities more power in the land use decisions that will directly affect their health and well-being.

“As communities that have been ground zero for bad land-use decisions, we are excited to work with Rep. Harper, the Governor’s office and IEPA to introduce legislation that considers our local health and environment, including current barriers to our participation such as language accessibility, in the permitting process,” said Kimberly Wasserman, executive director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

“Protecting Illinois’ most vulnerable residents and communities from harmful pollutants is a top priority for my administration as we implement policies that will protect the environment and facilitate broader adoption of clean energy,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “I applaud Representative Harper for this bill, which begins the critical work of giving communities a voice in making major decisions regarding permits for projects that could have a lasting impact on their families and neighbors.” 

“The Illinois EPA supports greater opportunities for public involvement and heightened scrutiny of projects in environmental justice areas,” said Illinois EPA Director John J. Kim. “These new requirements reflect the importance of prioritizing the concerns and health considerations of residents in areas that have higher potential for adverse impacts.”

HB4093 includes the following provisions:

  • Creates the first definition of environmental justice in the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.
  •  Requires translation services automatically be provided at public hearings in areas of linguistic isolation.
  • Requires that large air pollution facilities go through a local siting process that is similar to the process used for landfills and other large polluting waste facilities, increasing the ability for communities to weigh in on large air permitters.
  • Requires applicants for large air pollution facilities to hold public hearings in environmental justice communities and conduct a cumulative impact review of air pollution.
  • Gives community members standing to challenge more permitting decisions by the IEPA.
  • Creates a project bank in environmental justice communities for those that have violated pollution laws to ensure that projects are guided by the community.
  • Codifies a process for protected classes to file a grievance for civil rights violations regarding environmental pollution.

“For generations, a broken permitting process has propped up polluters’ profits at the expense of the health and wellbeing of people who live in environmental justice communities,” said Rep. Sonya Harper, sponsor of the bill. “We need to listen to the people who breathe polluted air day in and day out, and this bill brings us much closer to a process that grants meaningful input from those whose lives are most at stake.”

Importantly, the bill would require facilities to receive local siting approval from the municipality prior to applying for an Illinois EPA air permit. This will provide community members with a formal process and forum to raise concerns about a proposed project’s location. It also requires facilities to engage with the community much earlier in the project development process by mandating a public meeting and presentation of an environmental impact analysis prior to applying for a permit from Illinois EPA.

“Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing movement for racial justice, we have an opportunity this session to address a significant source of negative public health outcomes in environmental justice communities–cumulative pollution,” said Sen. Celina Villanueva.  “The permitting process is long overdue for reform, and I’m glad to see the governor and his administration joining us in this effort to protect public health in Black, Latinx and working-class communities.”

“It shouldn’t take hunger strikes or dozens of protests for the health concerns of environmental justice communities to be heard,” said Peggy Salazar from the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “We deserve clean air, water and soil, and we deserve a real say in the permitting process that determines what pollution, if any, will be added to our already overburdened communities.”

Chicago Environmental Justice Network
The Chicago Environmental Justice Network (CEJN) brings together neighborhood-based environmental justice organizations working in the Chicago metropolitan area. CEJN comprises LVEJO, Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ), People for Community Recovery, Southeast Environmental Taskforce and Blacks in Green.

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