Environmental Justice

It’s that time of year again—the “green” is taking over the Capitol. No, I’m not referring to all the individuals celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. I’m talking about environmental advocates who are once again heading to Springfield to support the passage of bills that will protect our air, clean our water, encourage energy efficiency, and boost the use of renewable energies here in Illinois. The fourth annual Environmental Lobby Day is just around the corner! We hope that you’ll join us on Wednesday, March 30th to remind legislators that people of faith certainly care about environmental issues.

PCG’s commitment to the environment has always required us to care for God’s creation—and to help the most vulnerable among us, those who have contributed the least to the problem, but stand to suffer the most.

We’re especially excited about our environmental agenda for this year. In addition to working on legislation following up on last year’s work, PCG is a leader in crafting and introducing legislation to protect vulnerable communities in Illinois from being disproportionately affected by environmental pollution. The “Environmental Justice Act” (SB 2193), sponsored by Senator Toi Hutchinson, is one of the first efforts in Illinois to codify policies that would provide low-income communities with input and participation in the permitting process for pollution-emitting facilities.

We know that air pollution and particulate matter can contribute to increased asthma rates, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, heart attacks, and other respiratory illnesses. Facilities that release these sorts of pollutants into the air are often located in low-income communities. Thus, their health and quality of life are certainly adversely affected.

SB 2193 is our first attempt at curbing the disproportionate effects of pollution on low-income communities. The legislation defines “Environmental Justice (EJ) Communities” as those where 30% of the population lives at, or below, 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. It requires that an individual/company wishing to locate a new polluting facility or expand an existing facility in an EJ community must hold a public hearing to discuss what the facility would do and what the potential environmental or health concerns might be.

The potential owner and the community would then need to enter into a “community benefit agreement” in which they agree on the parameters surrounding the creating or expansion of a facility. This gives residents of the community an opportunity to share their concerns and have input into what the facility and its owners might do to mitigate the impacts of a new facility. The goal is to provide communities with additional participation in facility permitting processes.

We realize this bill isn’t going to solve all the problems—but it’s a start. Environmental Justice is a new concept to many legislators and advocates in Springfield. This legislation gives all of us the opportunity to talk to our elected officials about the importance of protecting vulnerable families in Illinois from bearing the brunt of the state’s environmental pollution from coal plants, fossil fuel powered generating facilities, waste incinerators, and other sources of air pollution. It gives us the opportunity to talk not only about how fossil fuels affect our land, air, and water, but also about how they affect the very people who need extra protection.

So, for those of you who can come to Springfield with us for the Environmental Lobby Day, please register and get excited! For those of you who can’t come, please take the time to call your senator (and representative too). Let them know that you support SB 2193 and ask them to support it as well. Then, pass this on to your friends, family, and members of your congregation. We have the chance to do good work for the environment and good work for vulnerable families. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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