Chicago Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel’s Environmental Promises

In May, Rahm Emanuel will succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley. Here are a few of the incoming mayor’s statements on Chicago’s environment.

(In answer to the question: “Will you strongly advocate for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance and take other actions to require the clean up of all pollutants or the shut down of the highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants by 2015?”)

“Midwest Generation must clean up these two plants, either by installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the pollution they emit, or by converting to natural gas or another clean fuel. I will work closely with State and Federal regulators and the City Council to make sure it happens.”

(In answer to the question: “Do you support investment in auditing and retrofitting all City-owned and City-leased buildings in the next five years with energy efficiency measures that have paybacks of about ten years or less?”)

“The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.”

(In answer to the question: “Do you support requiring all newly constructed and substantially-rehabilitated buildings in Chicago to include wiring to accommodate an on-site renewable energy generation system, starting in 2014?”)

“I will work with the City Council to establish these requirements for new buildings of a certain size. Further, I will conduct a detailed review of City code and permit requirements to identify and eliminate barriers to the expansion of renewable energy installations throughout the City and make sure that the City Energy code is fully and effectively implemented.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you commit the City of Chicago and its affiliated agencies to purchasing at least 20% of their electricity supply from locally or in-state generated renewable energy resources by 2014?”)

“Renewable energy has to be a critical part of the City’s energy mix and integrated into an overall strategy that dramatically expands efficiency and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Given the dire financial situation of the City, we need to get the most out of every dollar spent, and I will emphasize local renewable energy sources that support jobs and renewable energy development in Chicago. Further, the State’s renewable energy portfolio standard should be enhanced to support affordable, distributed renewable energy sources in urban areas.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you support an ordinance that would require cleaner diesel fuel and equipment to be used on City-funded construction projects?”

“As part of my comprehensive strategy to reform the procurement process and green Chicago’s supply chain, I have made a commitment to review all City contracts, including construction contracts, to identify environmental impacts and modify specifications to ensure environmentally safe and affordable choices.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you ensure that Chicago’s current solid waste recycling ordinance is enforced [which requires landlords in apartment buildings to provide recycling to tenants] and that source-separated recycling is available to all homes and businesses by 2014?”)

“I will enforce the City’s solid waste recycling ordinance.

Improving and expanding curbside recycling is a top priority of mine. Picking up garbage in Chicago is too expensive and inefficient and must be reformed. Recycling has to be part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the City’s garbage collection system, particularly in light of the massive deficits in the City’s budget. I am committed to making this a long-term project so that all Chicago residents have access to curbside recycling, but the time frame for implementing the expansion will have to be determined based upon the availability of revenue and in the context of the City’s budget crisis.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you change Chicago’s MeterSave program from a voluntary installation system to a mandatory one with a goal of reaching 50% of single-family homes and two-flats during your first term?”)

“Yes. Too often, water is squandered as though it is limitless. As Mayor, I will direct the Department of Water Management to increase efforts to educate the public about the importance of water conservation, ensure proper water metering, and accelerate its water main replacement program to reduce leaks in the system. He will also task the Department of Water Management to study water rates in the city to determine the best way to adjust rates to encourage conservation and keep water rates affordable for all Chicagoans.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you advocate for an accelerated timeline for the U.S. Army Corps’ Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study that is examining watershed separation to permanently solve our invasive species problem?”)

“Invasive species are a significant and immediate threat, and separation of the watersheds is an important opportunity to invest in and improve the environment, our infrastructure and our economy. We cannot go slow or take a wait and see approach. The study must be expedited.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you commit to implementing strategies outlined in the 2015 Bike Plan, Chicago’s Pedestrian Plan and Chicago’s Complete Streets Policy to increase bicycle use and promote safe walkways?”)

“Full implementation of the Bike Plan makes the City more livable, affordable and improves air quality. Chicago needs to continue to be a leader in expanding opportunities for biking, improving walkability and linking these options to transit. We need to make sure that all communities receive the benefits of the Bike Plan and have access to safe and affordable transportation alternatives. I will direct my administration to review the Bike Plan goals and timelines to identify opportunities to expand the plan and accelerate the pace of implementation of innovative strategies like Compete Streets.”

(In answer to the question: “Do you commit to adding neighborhood public park space in communities that have less than 2 acres of parks per 1,000 residents?”)

“I will work to expand parks and make sure that those parks are properly programmed to provide recreational opportunities, improve quality of life and support environmental education and stewardship.”

(In answer to the question: “Are you committed to transferring the approximately 1,500 acres of City- or Port District-owned land in the Calumet region to the Chicago Park District and/or Forest Preserve District as identified in the City’s Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan?”)

“Despite a legacy of contamination and neglect, the Calumet region is home to nationally significant environmental assets that demonstrate the resilience of nature. Protecting the region’s natural resources is fully compatible with plans to create jobs and economic development, and celebrating and enhancing environmental assets must be a critical component of the sustainable development of the southeast side. I support the Open Space Reserve Plan including the transfer of property to the Park District and Forest Preserve.”

(In answer to the question: “Do you commit to completing the south lakefront park system from 71st Street to the Indiana border by 2015?”)

“Chicago’s lakefront is an incredible natural resource that helps define our City and drive our economy. Completing the park system to the Indiana border during my first term will be a priority of my administration. I will make sure that that connection, brings the wonders of the lakefront to Chicago neighborhoods that have been cut off from Lake Michigan, and I will implement park development strategies that improve water quality and enhance and celebrate natural resources.”

(In answer to the question: “Will you support coordinated and flexible city policies and zoning ordinances that will remove barriers and provide incentives for growing, producing and selling locally grown foods in Chicago neighborhoods?”)

“Local food and urban agriculture create jobs, improve healthy food opportunities, and provide access to fresh and affordable produce. The City shouldn’t create barriers to expansion through excessive setbacks and overly restrictive zoning requirements, and we need better models to promote urban agriculture as a transitional use in communities that want it – particularly those that are currently in a food desert. I will do a top to bottom review of all existing programs and requirements and will develop and implement common sense approaches that promote the growth, production and sale of locally grown food in Chicago neighborhoods.”

Mayor-Elect Emanuel also stated that he supports the Chicago Climate Action Plan, which advocates substantial changes in transportation, energy generation, and building design.

The new mayor has gone on the record on several themes central to the Sustainability Studies curriculum. In courses such as SUST 210 The Sustainable Future, SUST 220 Water, SUST 230 Food, SUST 240 Waste, SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change, SUST 320 Sprawl Transportation, and Planning, SUST 330 Biodiversity, and SUST 340 Policy, Law, and Ethics, our students will have plenty of opportunities to compare the new mayor’s actions to his rhetoric over the next four years. We look forward to seeing the stated improvements to the city’s energy, transportation, water, recycling, parklands, agriculture, and recreational practices over the next four years.

If the courses listed above interest you, we encourage you to investigate our degree options, and our course listings. For more information on a Roosevelt University degree, please call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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