SPRINGFIELD, IL — After missing multiple opportunities this Spring to protect environmental justice communities across Illinois, the Illinois General Assembly yesterday passed HB2878 and HJR23. These bills give broad permission for public-private partnership (P3) funding of large transportation projects like widening I-55. This legislation will bring new vehicle traffic and even more diesel emissions into the same communities that have historically borne the brunt of industrial pollution. The passage of these bills marks the end of a legislative session fraught with inaction on environmental justice issues, including the failure to pass the Environmental Justice Act.
“The state legislature’s fast-tracked passage of HB2878 and HJR23 to expand I-55 is a slap in the face to decades of environmental justice work in Chicago and Illinois,” says Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Policy Director Juliana Pino. “These bills were driven behind the scenes by Democratic leaders and their labor supporters without any public process or engagement with communities who will have to once again carry a disproportionate burden of dangerous air pollution. This legislature’s leadership turned its back on environmental justice communities this session by voting down the Environmental Justice Act and by approving the expansion of a highway that has overburdened and segregated Black and Brown Chicago communities for decades.”
In the eleventh hour of the spring legislative session, the legislature introduced HJR23, which would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to enact a public-private partnership to fund a construction project expanding I-55. Then, the Senate amended HB2878, an omnibus procurement bill, to include new pathways to public-private funding for large transportation projects like the I-55 widening project in HJR23. Despite an influx of opposition from environmental justice communities and allies, both bills passed.
“N4EJ, along with the Chicago Environmental Justice Network and our allies, have been leading efforts to end sacrifice zones in Chicago and across Illinois. We’ve investigated and researched the racist and unjust practices that continue to impact the public health of environmental justice communities such as ours. Environmental racism is still happening across Illinois,” said Alfredo Romo, Executive Director of Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ). “We’ve said enough is enough, and yet time and time again, our lawmakers fail to address these injustices. They say I-55 is crowded because people don’t have good choices for public transit. Then they say the fix is more I-55, instead of more public transit. The only groups that support this bill now stand to make money from it. The many who oppose it just want to breathe clean air.”
“Ultimately, politics should not be about serving the powerful or the people with money. Politics should be about the improvement of people’s lives. Neither HJR23 or HB2878 improve peoples’ lives,” said William McNary, Co-Director of Citizen Action Illinois.
Environmental advocates join the Chicago Environmental Justice Network and partners in their disappointment with the legislature’s inaction this session.
“The people living in Illinois’ most polluted communities deserve better protection against the many sources of air and water pollution that threaten their health,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “By failing to pass the Environmental Justice Act earlier this month and advancing legislation yesterday that will increase climate-polluting diesel emissions, lawmakers are neglecting their responsibility to act on the toxic legacy and continued impact of air pollution in Black, Brown, and working-class Illinois communities.”
Adding lanes to highways does not fix congestion or reduce emissions long-term. On the contrary, increased road capacity encourages more people to drive–something called induced demand. Because of so much induced demand, roadways fill up again with congestion from vehicle miles traveled, and new greenhouse gas emissions follow.
“At a time when our state should be reducing life-threatening pollution in already overburdened communities, the Illinois General Assembly has chosen instead to add new pollution in a covert fashion, adding insult to injury,” said Jen Walling, Illinois Environmental Council Executive Director. “The last thing EJ communities need is increased truck traffic, climate-warming diesel emissions, and even more dirty air. IEC will hold legislators accountable for their failure to do right by environmental justice communities, and we will score these votes in our annual scorecard.”
The transportation sector is the number one source of carbon emissions in Illinois. Illinois’ transportation planning should include an analysis of vehicle miles traveled and their contribution to climate warming emissions and dangerous air pollution for nearby communities.