Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot is criticizing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “green” record in an environmental plan she released Thursday.
“The city of Chicago has abdicated its responsibility to not only be a city and state, but also a regional leader, on a range of environmental issues,” she told WBEZ Thursday. “Its role dissipated substantially when it disbanded the Department of the Environment in 2011.”
“Polluting industries operate without adequate oversight and increasingly locate their operations in minority communities on the west and south sides, water that we are told is safe contains elevated levels of lead, our air quality is poor and hundreds of thousands of blue cans of recyclable materials are dumped in landfills instead of being recycled,” Lightfoot wrote in her “Plan for a Cleaner Environment.”
Under the Emanuel administration, recycling rates dropped to among the worst in the nation, according to a Better Government Association analysis, and miles of streets were dug up for water main replacement while the toxic lead service lines that connected them to homes were left in the ground.
Lightfoot has laid out a nine-point strategy to tackle issues ranging from lead service lines to air and soil testing to Great Lakes protection to recycling.
On the issue of lead service lines, she proposes various methods of helping residents replace them. The city required homes to install these toxic lead pipes for decades, but since they’re technically located on private property, Emanuel’s administration has said homeowners must pay for their replacement.
Lightfoot’s plan proposes “allowing utilities to use ratepayer money to cover the cost of replacing pipes on private property and providing financial incentives for qualifying homeowners ... through financial assistance, waiving or reducing applicable city fees and interest-free loans. Additionally, the city will provide access to free and low-cost filtration systems as a stop-gap for homes that need immediate relief from lead contamination, a step the Emanuel administration only abruptly decided to take in November 2018 after more than five years of denying the existence of the lead problem.”
The Chicago Department of Water Management and the Department of Streets and Sanitation did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Lightfoot's plan or her assessment of their handling of environmental issues.
Her plan also calls for cracking down on polluters, creating more incentives to recycle and immediately reviving the Department of the Environment.
llinois Environmental Council Executive Director Jennifer Walling applauded Lightfoot’s plan and called on other candidates for mayor "to make similar commitments."
Correction: This story has been updated to give the correct name of Jennifer Walling's organization.