Aldermen and environmental activists on Tuesday accused President Donald Trump of signing an executive order that amounts to the “single biggest attack on climate action in U.S. history.”
“Donald Trump’s executive order would let coal plants spew unlimited pollution into our air while ignoring the climate crisis, unraveling protections that are designed to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives,” Kady McFadden, deputy director of the Sierra Club, told a City Hall news conference.
McFadden urged Gov. Bruce Rauner to develop a “strong and just” Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution in Illinois.
“It has never been more important for Illinois to take the lead,” she said. “It’s time for Illinois to step up while Trump leaps backward.”
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) noted that, even before signing the new executive order undoing climate change regulations imposed during the Obama administration, Trump had signaled his intention to impose deep budget cuts at Environmental Protection Agency and “completely zero out” $300 million in annual funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“We are here today to send a clear message to the Trump administration and to Congress that the city of Chicago rejects these devastating maneuvers and will stand up strongly against them,” Waguespack said. “On Wednesday, we will introduce two pieces of legislation into the City Council and we hope the entire City Council and the administration on the fifth floor will stand with us in that effort.”
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) noted that the federal government has been a “partner” in cleaning up Lake Michigan and the Chicago River for more than two decades.
“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t canoe in the Chicago River because it was so dirty,” Munoz said. “Today, it’s life. It’s a lifeline for a neighborhood. A downtown neighborhood. But it’s a neighborhood.
“We fought in Little Village to close down a coal power plant because it was polluting our neighborhood, and we want to keep it closed. What the Trump administration is doing is rolling back those regulations.”
To unshackle coal mining and oil drilling, Trump’s executive order takes aim at a host of environmental protections imposed by former President Barack Obama.
Chief among them is the Clean Power Plan. It requires states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Those reductions have helped the U.S. meet its commitments to a global climate change accord reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015.
Trump’s order would essentially reverse a ban on coal leasing on federal lands. Rules curbing methane emissions from oil and gas production would be reversed. And climate change and carbon emissions policy would no longer have heavy weight when infrastructure permits are issued.
The angry reaction was predictable in a heavily Democratic city that has benefited from the 2012 shutdown of two coal-fired power plants, a cleaner-than-ever Chicago River and an ongoing battle against invasive species in the Great Lakes.
Cheryl Johnson is an Altgeld Gardens resident who runs a 35-year-old environmental justice organization started by her mother. Her community has one of the highest cancer rates in Chicago because it was so heavily dominated by pollution-spewing industries.
“To come to this point where we are gonna lose funding for the opportunity to protect our air and protect our waterways is almost like signing our own death certificate because I have witnessed the reduction of asthma attacks in my community,” she said. “If we lose any of these opportunities, my community will be the first one to die off because we’re poor. And most of these facilities are located in black and brown communities.”
Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined forces with the mayor of Montreal to warn of the “devastating” environmental impact of Trump’s proposal to gut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
After hosting mayors and other representatives from 17 cities in 11 different countries at an Urban Waterways Forum in Chicago, Emanuel argued that the proposal to reduce annual funding from “north of $300 million” to $10 million threatens a return to the ugly days epitomized by his childhood swims in Lake Michigan.
“You’d have to run into the water, dive under the dead fish, hold your breath, swim all the way 20, 30, 40, 50 feet [in a way that] tested your lungs, and then come up past that,” Emanuel recalled.
“Those times where the dead fish just rolled in are over. It shows you that investing in that environmental cleanup has had a tremendous impact. In the same way that, we’re even having a discussion about swimming in a [Chicago] river that used to be dying and has now been reborn.”