APR 20, 2023
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson will have to address decades of environmentally racist policies that have encouraged the dirtiest industries to leave gentrified neighborhoods and set up shop in vulnerable communities of color.
He’s inheriting a legacy that has created sacrifice zones mainly in communities of color resulting from the city’s broken zoning and land use laws.
These policies have even sparked a federal civil rights investigation from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and could put hundreds of millions of dollars of funding in jeopardy. The federal investigation found that the city has been violating residents’ civil rights by relocating polluting facilities from white communities into Black and Latinx areas.
The solution that the Johnson administration will have to implement must include strong protections from industry and all of the sources of pollution that have accumulated mostly in communities of color.
It’s also important to recognize that although people of color are often hit the first and hardest by pollution, these problems are not just harming the people living close to industrial facilities. Air pollution is not static, it travels far beyond its source.
Although communities like mine have been sounding the alarm for years, recent reports are making it clear that even beyond Chicago, other communities in the state and as far as Wisconsin are affected.
Environmental racism is a problem for all of Chicago, not just for communities of color or those living on the fence line, next to factories or warehouses.
All of our families are in this fight together regardless of the neighborhood we call home. That's why the solutions to these problems must be city-wide, instead of leaving it up to every individual community to police the nearest industrial facility.
Mayor-elect Johnson should make it a goal to end the city’s sacrifice zones. Environmental justice advocates are proposing an ordinance that approaches zoning and land use laws to take into account the cumulative impacts of pollution. Approving this ordinance would be a huge step towards reaching this crucial goal. That may seem like a simple change in policy, but it would overhaul the city’s zoning and land-use laws that are so clearly broken.
A cumulative impacts ordinance would also allow our communities to finally transition away from toxic industry. The problem with our current zoning laws is that they push the worst of polluters to communities like mine and the worst sources of pollution are all connected.
We must think about how we protect the same communities inundated with industrial facilities from pollution that also comes from trucking, metal shredding, concrete and asphalt making, and the list goes on.
My own struggle with asthma reminds me of the importance of policies that protect our health. So many of my family and friends have asthma, and I’ve lost too many friends to cancer and other illnesses. These health impacts remind me how vulnerable we are and how our health is precious and should be held above the profits of industry.
I wouldn’t trade in the health of my community so that polluters can have business as usual. That should be the number one environmental justice priority for our new mayor.
The Johnson administration must prioritize environmental justice and take action to address the decades of environmental racism that have taken their toll on the city, and we are looking forward to partnering with them in that effort.
Policy that addresses cumulative impacts would protect the health of all residents and prevent the creation of new sacrifice zones. It is time to overhaul the broken zoning and land-use laws and transition away from toxic industry. We must prioritize the health of our communities above the profits of industry, and it is up to the new mayor of Chicago to take action to make this a reality.
Bio: Olga Bautista’s immigrant parents taught her that she should not expect anyone to do for her, what she is not willing to do for herself. This ethos led her to always ask questions but not complain about community issues unless she was ready to do something about it. She’s dedicated her personal and professional career to improving the lives of her fellow community members. In addition to being the Executive Director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF), she was a Local School Council Parent Representative at John L. Marsh School, a YWCA Crisis Intervention Specialist, a board member of the Immigrant Defense Alliance, and a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE). As one of the lead organizers for the Chicago Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, she continues to lead the fight that has forced state and local politicians to address pressing environmental issues in the 10th Ward.
Meetings & Agendas