A long-simmering environmental justice issue in Chicago finally reached its boiling point.
Residents in the city's heavily-industrialized Southeast Side recently launched a hunger strike to protest the siting of a scrap metal processor in their neighborhood.
The Southeast Side, predominately Hispanic, has been dealing with poor air quality issues for years, including particulate matter from pet coke and manganese with little or no relief from the city of Chicago or the Illinois EPA.
But here's the kicker, the company coming to the Southeast Side is relocating from a Chicago area north of downtown. That area is the recipient of huge development investments and is gentrifying. In addition, the scrap metal processor isn't known for environmental best practices.
There have been many interim steps in the siting process but the Illinois EPA approved the relocation saying it had to follow the law. Chicago gets to make the final decision and those reading the tea leaves suspect the move will be approved.
But we now have a new president, Democrat Joe Biden, who ran on a strong environmental justice agenda. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot just punted to the USEPA asking for guidance on the siting decision.
Since the early 1990's presidents including George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama have talked a better EJ game than they played.
How Biden's EPA handles the ongoing Southeast Side EJ saga may go a long way in establishing his EJ credibility. If his EPA whiffs, his cred is damaged and he's off on the wrong foot.
And he currently doesn't have an EPA administrator as his selection, Michael Regan, is awaiting senate confirmation. And there's this.
It was the EPA under Obama's administrator Gina McCarthy, who had oversight responsibility for Flint during its water crisis. The agency declined a citizen request for it to use its emergency authority to intervene as Michigan was failing, though it did later as the national spotlight increased.
McCarthy and former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder were hauled before congress to explain what happened. McCarthy took no responsibility and Snyder did for the state's failings, but not personal responsibility. There's a $600 million negligence suit working its way through the courts against EPA over Flint. McCarthy now has a senior position in the Biden White House.
Michigan settled a $600 million civil lawsuit. Snyder was recently charged with two willful neglect misdemeanors and could face prison.
Illinois politically is a deep blue state with Democrats holding the governor's office, the legislature,
the two senate seats and mayor of Chicago so, they own the outcome.
Meanwhile, the hunger strike continues and participation is growing.
Chicago-based environmental journalist