Aug 2, 2023 - Climate

How Mayor Brandon Johnson's administration views environmental justice

Illustration of a Black person's hands holding a plant made out of money.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Today in our continuing series summarizing Mayor Brandon Johnson's transition committee reports, seen as a "blueprint" for the city's future, we tackle environmental justice.

Why it matters: Cities use 78% of the world's energy and create more than 60% of greenhouse gases, per the UN, which makes their environmental plans crucial to the future of the planet.

The scope: Featuring six goals and over 100 recommendations, the report urges officials to expedite lead line removal, transition quickly to clean energy, make utilities equitable, and protect areas hardest hit by pollution, also known as EJ communities.

Big kahuna goal: Relaunch the Department of Environment, with a focus on environmental justice, and have city officials "co-govern" with EJ communities.

Intriguing recommendations: Create a chief sustainability officer in the mayor's office and a deputy mayor for environmental justice.

Reality check: Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot also made a campaign promise to relaunch the DOE but was unable to do so during her four years in office.

Goal 2: Create and implement "Green New Deals" for Chicago water and schools.

Intriguing recommendations: Replace 40,000 lead water lines by 2027. Under the current plan, that's the year the city would have started removing 2%, or 8,000 lines, a year.

  • Rebuild Chicago's neglected shoreline and build more green stormwater infrastructure.
  • Install solar rooftops and gardens at schools to teach environmental stewardship and STEM skills.

Reality check: Chicago's lead line removal process has been expensive and slow — and well behind those in most other cities.

What they're saying: Grassroots Collaborative campaign director Jung Yoon, who's part of the group that authored the recommendations, told Inside Climate News that the Green New Deal framing is "intentionally political."

  • Yoon said there's excitement around how Chicago can "pave the way to show what a Green New Deal in action can look like … so we can address current environmental and economic and racial disparities in a sustainable future."

Of note: Food-based recommendations include starting a "citywide curbside composting program" and making it easier for mobile vendors to serve traditional fresh fruit snacks.

Committee members: In addition to Yoon, the 25-person group is co-chaired by Little Village Environmental Justice Organization policy director Juliana Pino and Illinois Environmental Council deputy director Colleen Smith.

Go deeper: The Illinois Environmental Council analyzed the report and shared more related information, plus ways the public can get involved.

This story is part of a series breaking down key topics in Mayor Brandon Johnson's transition report, including immigration and transportation.

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