Chicago City Council members passed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion budget Monday in a 32-18 vote. But it wasn’t without some tense debate.
The mayor came under fire by some alderpeople for not living up to her campaign promise to re-establish a city Department of Environment.
Instead, Lightfoot’s spending plan creates an Office of Climate and Environmental Equity.
Iyana Simba, city programs director of the Illinois Environmental Council, believs the office is a step forward.
“Given where we were at, even at the beginning of this budget process where it was supposed to be six people in this office that was underneath the mayor’s office, to now have a separate standing body and to have a promise of a study and the commitment to an eventual department … it is doing enough as far as setting up a pathway to the department of environment,” Simba said.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward), who voted against the budget, believes a full department is crucial for city accountability on environmental matters.
“Mayor Lightfoot, let’s remember, campaigned on the promise to re-establish the department of environment. Not an office, a department,” he said.
During her 2019 campaign, Lightfoot vowed to restore the department that was dissolved under Mayor Rahm Emanuel due to budget cuts. No such department has been restored.
“The difference between an office and a department is that a department has independence and capacity to do the oversight and to make sure we have the capacity to make sure we do, like we have promised” he added.
The alderman fought to include a cumulative impact study in the budget, which analyzes the past, present and future human and environmental impacts. However, it is unclear if this study would apply to the current permit renewal by Sims Metal Management, which is in review.
“We could not get a firm commitment that this cumulative impact study is going to be done so that we could start reviewing these permits properly…” Sigcho-Lopez said, of the facility in his ward.
Sims Metal Management in Pilsen reportedly failed to install functional high-grade air monitors, and community leaders are fighting for the city to deny the company’s permit, a fight that Amalia NietoGomez knows well.
As executive director of Alliance of the SouthEast, NietoGomez fought against permit renewals for General Iron to develop in the Southeast Side. The community, along with other environmental justice advocates, pushed for the removal of General Iron, and the city finally rejected their permit earlier this year.
“I think it’s a good step when the city denied the permit to General Iron … but we need more of the same … There’s a lot of toxic developments that are being proposed and that are coming down the pike and so that’s what we need from the mayor’s office, is to make sure that General Iron wasn’t a ‘one and done’ but that it’s a start...” NietoGomez said.
NietoGomez believes that the Office of Climate and Environmental Equity is a start but her community is going to evaluate whether or not there is a change in policies.
“What we are looking for the city to do is that there is a change of policy so that there is no toxic companies coming our way,” NietoGomez said.