New Illinois commission to promote environmental justice

August 16, 2011

(Photo courtesy of Carlyn Crispell)
Coal plants in Chicago's Latino neighborhood Pilsen have been linked to health issues for residents.

Illinois has a new environmental law that's designed to protect minorities and the poor.

The Environmental Justice Act, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday, will create the new Commission on Environmental Justice, which will be composed of lawmakers, citizens, health experts, environmental advocates and businesses. The commission's charge will be to prevent economically disadvantaged communities from bearing the bulk of the effects of industrial pollution and other environmental risks. 

Representative Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, is one of the law's principal backers. He says several communities deserve to have extra environmental scrutiny. One example Davis cites is Altgeld Gardens, a primarily African-American community on Chicago's South Side.

"It sits directly across the street from a huge landfill," Davis said. "It has been reported or alleged that there are higher incidences of cancer-related illnesses and deaths in comparison to other communities."

Davis hopes the new Commission on Environmental Justice will find all sites that pose environmental risks to Illinoisans. The commission is expected to review state environmental laws and policies, and then make recommendations to the governor and general assembly.