Celebrate Freedom, Reflect on Racism

[Tess/Unsplash photo]
On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black people in Texas finally learned that they were free.

Today, Juneteenth is a time to celebrate that freedom. It also is a time to reflect on what we can do to fight actively against the systemic inequities that Black communities face: police brutality, voter suppression, housing discrimination and more.

Octavius Hayes, a member of Clean Power Lake County’s steering committee, explains what’s at stake:

The accumulation of incidents of racism, police brutality and murder of so many Black and brown people over the last few years alone has clearly left an indelible mark on young people, especially young people of color. But these types of violent acts of racism and bigotry are nothing new, predating the founding of our great nation. Therefore, as a nation, as Illinoisans, and as community members of Lake County, it isn’t simply enough to expect better. We must unite to demand better, and do the work of dismantling systemic racism, to ensure the safety and dignity of all people. Otherwise, this nation is doomed to continue to repeat the same mistakes that only further divide us at a time when we should be coming together to find solutions for imminent threats to humanity—such as climate change—that transcend race, economics, and borders.

 

 

Black Lives Matter: Let’s Talk About Environmental Justice 

Environmental justice for all.
[Leah Hartung/Canva image]
By Leah Hartung

For environmentalism to be successful and complete, it must include social justice. Environmental degradation and climate change do not affect the population equally: The brunt of the burden falls on marginalized communities. With the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the nation, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, it is necessary for environmentalists to discuss the physical as well as the social environment for Black people in the United States.

The social environment for Black people in America has long been a painful one. America has a long history of police brutality disproportionately affecting Black people. In 1927 and 1928, Black residents of Chicago constituted 30 percent of the victims of police killings, even though they only made up 5 percent of the area’s population, according to an Illinois Crime Survey cited in Smithsonian Magazine. Today, about 1 in 1,000 Black men in the United States die at the hands of the police, according to the Los Angeles Times. Black women are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by the police (Los Angeles Times). Black men, according to the Washington Post, are 2.5 times more likely than their white counterparts to die during an encounter with the police, adjusting for the age of the person shot, whether the person suffered from mental illness, whether the person was attacking a police officer, and for the crime rate in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. 

The high rate of unarmed Black Americans killed by the police causes more incidents of depression, stress, and other mental health issues among Black people, even if they did not have a direct connection to the Black Americans who lost their lives, according to a study by Boston University’s School of Health and University of Pennsylvania.

Yet it is not only the social environment that hurts black people in America. The physical environment that Black communities live in also continues to cause them harm at disproportionate rates. Black Americans face a 54 percent higher health burden from air pollution compared to the overall population, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, which cited historical racism and economic inequality as major factors for the disparity. Facilities emitting particulate pollution are more likely to be in Black communities, causing Black Americans to experience more asthma, a greater likelihood of heart attacks, and premature death. According to an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine, Black Americans are 3 times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than white Americans.

The higher burden of air pollution on Black communities is particularly dangerous during this pandemic. A preliminary nationwide study from Harvard University found exposure to high levels of air pollution correlated with higher mortality rates from COVID-19. This finding, coupled with health disparities and unequal access to care in Black communities, helps explain why Black residents only account for 29% of Chicago’s population—yet 52% of those testing positive and 72% of those who had died as of April 6, 2020, were Black (WBEZ). 

Additionally, because of Black communities’ fewer resources, economic disenfranchisement, and unstable housing, they are more vulnerable to climate change as it intensifies natural disasters such as heat waves, flooding, and hurricanes, said Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, in The Root. Climate change will further erode the disparity between Black and white communities.

Let us take this moment to reflect on how the environment in America is not the same for all of its citizens.

Leah Hartung is from Libertyville, Illinois, and is a rising junior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) studying environmental science.

CPLC Celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month

[42 North/Pexels photo]
As a community organization committed to justice for all people, Clean Power Lake County is pleased to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. We gratefully acknowledge the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

June 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions. The first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a tipping point for the gay liberation movement in the United States.

LGBTQ+ celebrations may look a little different this year—as Americans cautiously begin to resume public life in the midst of a global pandemic; as protesters across the country call for justice in the violent death of George Floyd; as police in riot gear fire rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas at protesters and rioters. Yet LGBTQ+ celebrations are as important as ever, or perhaps even more important than ever: Pride Month offers us ways to protest discrimination and violence as well as to promote the dignity, equal rights, and self-affirmation of LGBTQ+ people.

CPLC Co-chair Will Attend State of the Union Address as Sen. Duckworth’s Guest

Senator Tammy Duckworth with Celeste and Yolanda Flores of Waukegan.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth welcomes Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and her mother, Yolanda Flores, to the U.S. Capitol. Celeste will attend the State of the Union address on February 4 as the senator’s guest. [Photo courtesy of Sen. Tammy Duckworth]

Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place, will attend the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on February 4 as the guest of Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

“Every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land regardless of their ZIP code, the size of their wallet and the color of their skin. However, that’s often not the case for low-income communities and people of color,” Duckworth said.

“I’m so pleased to bring Celeste—a tireless advocate for environmental justice—as my guest to the State of the Union so together, we can shine a light on these issues and raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way,” Duckworth added.

Flores, who was born and raised in Lake County, saw the devastation of mountaintop removal while a student at Bellarmine University in Kentucky. After graduating from college and spending a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Appalachia, she returned to Lake County. It was then that she learned about local environmental justice efforts to ensure Waukegan a just transition away from the coal-fired plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.

In November 2019, Flores participated in a Senate hearing—chaired by Duckworth and organized by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis—about the ways climate change uniquely impacts environmental justice communities.

“Growing up in Waukegan, a low-income and working-class area, and as a child of immigrant parents in a predominantly Latinx and African American community, I’ve seen firsthand how environmental justice communities in Lake County carry the burden of polluting industries and are forced to deal with the consequences of environmental injustice for generations,” said Flores.

“The time to act is now,” Flores added. “By joining together with elected officials like Sen. Duckworth, who has been a staunch advocate for environmental justice, we can lift up the voices of those disproportionally affected and achieve our shared vision for social change that is led by those most directly impacted.”

 

CPLC Works to Prevent Weakening of EtO Standards

[Geralt/Pixabay photo]
Clean Power Lake County is working to prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from increasing the amount of ethylene oxide (EtO) chemical facilities can emit—and we need your help.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently proposed a number that is 1,000 times worse for public health than national standards, according to environmental groups.

Unfortunately, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas.

We’re concerned that the EPA may adopt the weaker TCEQ model instead of keeping the current Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) guidelines.

Now is the time to stop the EPA from weakening EtO standards. Will you contact your member of Congress and ask them to demand the EPA reject the TCEQ risk assessment?

Feel free to write your own letter or copy our letter.

Then:

Or go to GovTrack to find your senator or representative.

CPLC to Host Prep Meeting for IEPA Sessions on Waukegan Coal Plant

Lake County residents line the Lake Michigan shoreline to demand a fossil fuel-free, clean energy future for their communities. [Karen Long MacLeod/CPLC photo]
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will hold two public sessions in Waukegan in October on issues related to the Waukegan coal plant—and we want to be ready!

Please join Clean Power Lake County for an important community information and work meeting on Wednesday, September 25, 7 pm to 8:30 pm, at Whittier Elementary School, 901 N. Lewis Ave., Waukegan, Illinois.

We’ll work on comments for two upcoming IEPA visits to Waukegan:

RSVP now.

For more information, contact CPLC at cleanpowerlc@gmail.com or 224-212-9156.

CPLC Celebrates as Governor Signs Milestone Coal Ash Cleanup Bill Into Law

The NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront has two unlined coal ash ponds. [Lisa Long/CPLC photo.]
For years, Clean Power Lake County has called for state action on toxic pollution from two unlined coal ash ponds at the NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront. On July 30, 2019, our calls were answered as Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, into law.

The most significant step to protect clean water in years, the new law will result in stronger rules for coal ash cleanup, fund cleanup programs, and require companies to set aside money to close and clean up coal ash ponds.

“This is a great win for coal ash communities, especially for Waukegan residents that have been continuously affected by corporate polluters,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County.

“The governor is putting the State of Illinois in a good trajectory in signing SB9 into law, by sending a message that environmental justice communities across the state are being put before profitable industrial polluters like NRG Energy. Waukegan residents commend Gov. Pritzker and our state legislators for making SB9 into law. Our land is our children’s future and we look forward to the State of Illinois continuing to strengthen protections for our vulnerable environmental justice communities,” she added.

The Lake County News-Sun published a nice summary of the law’s potential impact on Waukegan.

The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state:

  • Creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup.
  • Guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities.
  • Provides the Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup.
  • Requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

Now the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will begin writing and proposing draft rules. The Illinois Pollution Control Board will finalize the IEPA rules.

Read about the requirements for the new coal ash regulations.

“Illinois joins other states that are putting residents’ health before industrial polluters’ profit. We look forward to working with IEPA to engage communities most affected by coal ash in the rulemaking process,” said Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place.

Once again, we thank the many Lake County elected officials who supported this important legislation: State Senators Melinda Bush, Terry Link, and Julie Morrison; and State Representatives Rita Mayfield, Joyce Mason, Dan Didech, Mary Edly-Allen, Bob Morgan, and Sam Yingling.

 

CPLC: Our Policy on Political Endorsements

[Gerd Altmann/Pixabay photo]
With local, state, and federal elections coming up, we would like to remind our supporters that Clean Power Lake County does not endorse candidates running for elected office and does not participate in political campaigns.

CPLC is a coalition made up of 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations—charitable, educational, and religious institutions—that are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office, under the Internal Revenue Code.

At the same time, we believe that practicing participatory democracy is one of the main ways we can build sustainable, healthy communities in Lake County. We respect and appreciate every individual who  helps strengthen civic engagement or otherwise engages in the democratic process.

Questions? Please contact us at cleanpowerlc@gmail.com.

 

CPLC Supports Equitable and Just National Climate Platform

Climate Forum participants sign historic Equitable and Just National Climate Platform.
Michele Roberts of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform signs the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform. [Ralph Alswang/Center for American Progress photo]
Clean Power Lake County has joined more than 70 other environmental justice and national environmental groups as an inaugural signatory of the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform to address the widening climate crisis—before it’s too late.

This historic platform highlights a shared vision for national climate action that confronts racial, economic, and environmental injustice while enacting deep cuts in climate pollution and accelerating a pollution-free energy future that benefits all communities.

Clean Power Lake County and other signatories believe communities that bear the greatest burdens from pollution, climate change, and economic inequality should co-lead the way in shaping the assertive solutions we need to tackle the climate crisis and environmental racism as well as to achieve a just climate future.

The platform released on July 18 lays out how we can—and will—get there together.

Action priorities:

  • Enact solutions that address the legacy of pollution
  • Make justice and equity a priority
  • Reduce greenhouse gas pollution
  • Transition to a clean energy future
  • Reduce transportation pollution
  • Rebuild infrastructure and housing
  • Demand a just national climate agenda
  • Be on a pathway to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius

Our shared vision: “All people and all communities have the right to breathe clean air, live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, have access to healthy food, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant clean economy.”

Learn more about the National Climate Platform and the inaugural signatories at AJustClimate.org.

CPLC Environmental Justice Rally: Highlights

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Activists representing Waukegan’s immigrant, low-income, and working-class families came together for a rally on June 22, 2019, united in the hope that achieving social and environmental justice will help them build a healthier, more sustainable community.

Here are some highlights from speeches given at the rally.

Edgar Sandoval: Environmental justice

Environmental justice is a movement that seeks to broaden the social assumptions we have about what the environment is and who can be an environmentalist. Historically, mainstream environmental groups have framed the environment as something that existed over there, in nature preserves and national parks. Many people who do environmental justice work have reframed the environment to consider three arenas: where we live, where we work, and where we play.

Championed primarily by African Americans, Latinxs, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, the environmental justice movement addresses a statistical fact: People who live, work and play in the US’s most polluted environments are commonly people of color, immigrants, and living in impoverished conditions. Environmental justice advocates have shown that this is no accident. Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts—say, a landfill, a dirty industrial plant or a truck depot. The statistics provide clear evidence of what the movement rightly calls environmental racism.

Environmental justice is about environmental racism. To address one requires addressing the other. Race is the commonsense ideology that explains difference based on biology. Racism is the exercise of unequal power relations on the basis of racial ideologies. In other words, racism is about power.

The US EPA is addressing five sites in the city of Waukegan through its Superfund program, which allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and forces parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. Three sites are listed on the National Priorities List: Johns-Manville Corp. (a former asbestos manufacturing plant that operated from the 1920s to the 1980s) and Outboard Marine Corp.—both of which are along Waukegan’s lakefront—and Yeoman Creek Landfill. The other two sites—North Shore Gas North and South plants—are being addressed under EPA’s Superfund Alternative Sites program.

These various hazards indicate that the residents of Waukegan experience cumulative exposure to a range of toxins, which means that the effects of this accumulation of chemicals is not additive but exponential. This means that the harmful effects (feeling sick, for example) of one chemical are made a lot worse by the introduction of other chemicals into your body.

Andrew Rehn: Coal ash

I work for Prairie Rivers Network, a nonprofit based in Champaign that works to protect water, heal land, and inspire change in Illinois. Some of you may be familiar with coal ash. It’s the byproduct of burning coal. Coal itself has trace elements of toxic heavy metals, and those trace elements end up getting concentrated in the coal ash, which is then stored in large holding ponds.

At the Waukegan power plant just a few miles from here, coal ash has been produced for decades over the operation and is stored in two huge ponds. Worse, coal ash has also been historically dumped across the site in unmarked areas.

Last year, a report we released in partnership with the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Sierra Club showed that 22 of the 24 coal-fired power plants that we examined had groundwater above health-based thresholds.

The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, Senate Bill 9, will force polluters to prove that they have the money to pay for cleaning up coal ash by requiring financial assurances. It funds the Illinois EPA to regulate coal ash with fees from polluters. It ensures that the public has a voice in the coal ash pond closure process. And it prioritizes environmental justice communities for cleanup.

We also won a major lawsuit, which began in 2012, that will hold NRG Energy’s subsidiary liable for the pollution at four of their coal-fired power plants, including Waukegan.

We’ve had a lot of good news, but there’s still more work to be done. Our coal ash bill is going to be drafted into rules—and the devil is in the details. We’re going to need continued grassroots support to ensure our bill becomes a good rule. And the lawsuit itself isn’t over—legal matters are never that simple. NRG’s subsidiary is found liable for their pollution. The next legal battle is remedy. We’re going to work to ensure that the coal ash is removed and stored in a safe location. I’m hopeful that we’re on the right track to solving coal ash in Illinois

Guadalupe Bueno: Coal ash

Canoeing with other Eco-Ambassadors last summer, we saw coal ash leaching into the beautiful Vermilion River, visibly discoloring the water and staining the sandstone.

In Vermilion, the coal-fired generating station was retired in 2011. The company fulfilled the minimum requirements for capping the three coal ash ponds, which are located feet from the river itself. Within five years, those ponds began leaching into the river, poisoning a scenic waterway that supports fish, animals, and farms as it flows into the Illinois River.

Seeing the Vermilion river made me realize that this could occur in Waukegan, as well. The NRG plant is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, which supplies our drinking water.

Daniela Lopez: Ethylene oxide

The most recent threats of breathing ethylene oxide (EtO) are the most recent example of environmental injustices being played out not only in our state but across the nation.

When EtO was identified as a concern in Willowbrook (Sterigenics)—a 77 percent white suburb with an average per capita income of more than $71,000 a year—US EPA officials met with residents almost immediately. They began monitoring air three months later and put a seal the plant three months after that.

In Waukegan (Medline Industries)—where the neighborhoods most affected are only 25 percent white and have a per capita income of about $14,000—residents learned about the dangerous chemical in the air from a newspaper article in November when our elected officials were informed of the elevated levels in August. Residents are still waiting for the US EPA and the Illinois EPA to act.

If you have been following these government agencies, you know that we have received the ambient air testing results for the first phase of testing. Unfortunately the results confirmed our suspicions that the levels of EtO are on par with those found around the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, and at the highest 500 times higher than the EPA’s actionable limit for EtO (50,000 higher than the levels linked to an increase in rates of cancer). This is also the location closest to Alice’s Discovery Academy, a daycare center for children 6 weeks to 12 years old, and the Landings at Amhurst Lake, a large apartment complex.

Celeste Flores: Clean Energy Jobs Act

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is working to expand on the success of the Future Energy Jobs Act, advocating for more urgent active at the state level.

Our partner, Faith In Place Action Fund, is working to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. This legislation would make Illinois a national clean energy leader by bringing the state to 100% renewable energy, a carbon-free grid by 2030, and a significantly cleaner transportation sector, creating jobs and economic opportunity throughout Illinois.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act also would:

  • Generate more than $30 billion in new infrastructure and thousands of jobs in the state.
  • Create an equitable distribution of economic benefits for communities that stand to gain the most through Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs and Clean Energy Empowerment Zones.
  • Increase investments and incentives for clean transportation and electric vehicle charging.
  • Grant more residents access to popular cost-saving community solar programs

The Clean Energy Jobs Act will ensure an equitable energy transition that benefits all of Illinois and doesn’t leave communities like Waukegan behind.