CHICAGO – The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is urging Chicago officials to take a careful look at some of the polluting developers operating on the city’s Southeast side.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has agreed and says she is now pressing the brakes on a permit application for a well-known metal scrapper. The decision comes after the city says it will more carefully scrutinize whether Reserve Management Group (RMG) should open Southside Recycling in the East Side neighborhood. The same people own the former General Iron Plant in Lincoln Park.
“It’s a victory for everyone involved in this movement,” said activist Oscar Sanchez.
In a letter addressed to Lightfoot Friday, the U.S. EPA said the city needs to carefully listen to environmental justice concerns when considering a pending permit application for a new metal scrapper on the city’s Southeast side.
“They expressed some concerns about the way in which this and other environmental issues were vetted under the previous administration,” Lightfoot said. “Asking us to conduct a more extensive environmental analysis, and we’re going to do that.”
Activists say it’s a long overdue victory.
“It took a lot of work to get here.”
Activists say the Southeast Side is already full of polluters and the city needs to prioritize residents over the industry.
“These developers underestimated us,” Sanchez said. “But we know we deserve better than General Iron.”
Legal experts question why RMG has been allowed to continue building the Southside Recycling site while its permit application is still pending – blaming an improper side agreement between General Iron and the city in the fall of 2019.
“We should have never have gotten to this place,” said Nancy Loeb, Northwestern University School of Law. “And this pause is long overdue.”
The mayor has now promised to conduct a thorough environmental analysis, examining projects with a new level of scrutiny. Some say the location of these sites in Black and brown communities raises civil rights concerns. But Monday, the mayor wouldn’t go so far as to call it environmental racism.
“It’s enough of the shenanigans,” said 25th Ward Alderman Bryon Lopez. “Advocate for every single community no matter where the zip code is.”
A spokesperson for RMG says the new recycling facility would meet or exceed all applicable environmental and health standards. And if they aren’t allowed to open, it just means another company will do what they do, but with even less oversight and regulation.
The spokesperson said, in part, “Delaying Southside Recycling’s permit will only exacerbate the environmental justice burden in Pilsen. And, after carefully reviewing the charges of environmental racism, a federal judge concluded there was no evidence to support the baseless allegations.”