City officials promise to do a better job of keeping communities in the loop going forward
More than 40 local labor, community, faith, youth and environmental organizations, including the League of Women Voters of Chicago, NAACP, and Illinois Poor People’s Campaign, called on the City of Chicago to deny recycling and air operations approvals for General Iron’s proposed Southeast Side facility. The groups came together in a virtual press conference to express dissatisfaction with city officials about issuing an air permit to the scrap metal recycler, seemingly without any public comment or community input.
Speakers during the press conference pulled no punches. "[Issuing the permit] is a blatant disregard, they are sending a strong signal to us that our lives don't matter," said Olga Bautista of Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. "It is really about time that the needs of our community and the people come first," said Sheilah Garland-Olaniran of Illinois Poor Peoples' Campaign. "My community on the Southeast Side is often called the armpit of Chicago because basically we are the forgotten part of Chicago's South Side," said Vanessa Zepeda, a student at George Washington High School.
City officials afterward acknowledged that “there should have been better engagement with the community on this issue.” The city’s health department said officials would “provide more prompt, thorough community notifications of new activity” in the future.
In the past, Mayor Lightfoot has suggested that a permit for General Iron would restrict the air pollution and that the business could not operate on the South East Side until it “demonstrates compliance” with new rules for such businesses.
On Monday, October 5, city officials noted that “historically, air pollution control permits have been granted without a community review or notification. However, given the sensitive nature of this matter, we recognize this was a clear missed opportunity for [the city] to keep the community informed of the process in a timely manner.”
A growing number of local organizations are urging the city to address long-standing environmentally racist policies. Groups are calling on the city to deny the permits that General Iron would need to move to the Southeast Side because of the existing pollution threats that continue to burden residents. The proposed site would be next to residential areas, schools, parks, and the Calumet River. The city air construction permit approval comes two months after the city released an air quality report recognizing the disparate environmental burden borne by the Southeast Side and purportedly committing to address them.