conservation 032221SPRINGFIELD – Conversations of equity and equality have recently been at the forefront of legislative measures, but Senator Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) realized there was a place it was missing: environmental policies.

It led Bush to hold conversation on environmental justice in Illinois during Thursday’s Senate Environment and Conservation Committee.

“We cannot have a strong environment unless we have equitable environmental policy,” Bush said. “Today’s hearing was a learning opportunity for all of us so we can best move forward with passing environmental legislation that supports all people and communities.”

Representatives from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, provided their expertise.

Mike Atty, executive director of United Congregations of Metro-East, said communities of color are disproportionally impacted by environmental structures that place toxic industries in their neighborhoods. A common misconception, he said, is that Black and Brown communities don’t care about the environment. Rather, Atty testified it’s the exact opposite and environmental issues are degrading to his community’s way of life.

“When we think of environmental justice and environmental racism, we are committed to working with the Illinois EPA and General Assembly to bring equity and provide resources for jobs and training for communities that have been historically left out of the process,” Atty said.

Eduardo Flores from Clean Power Lake County said people who live in environmental justice communities often are faced with more health issues, including higher rates of birth defects, heart attacks, lung cancer and strokes, just to name a few. In Lake County alone, one out of every three children has asthma or asthma-like symptoms, which have been said to be linked to a lack of clean energy.

“By remaining in my home city [of Waukegan] I know I am jeopardizing my life and health,” Flores said. “Fossil fuel companies have taken advantage of the community, making a profit and leaving behind a toxic mess. Now, Waukegan residents have a life expectancy 15 years lower than someone living just seven miles away.”

Bush said she is committed to continuing conversations about environmental justice and pledges to look through its lens when considering legislation.

“People are fighting for the right to breathe and for their children to have open spaces to play,” Bush said. “People are also breathing contaminated air and living around contaminated land. We must pass fair and equitable legislation to allow people to live comfortably and safely.”