What Is the Future of Chicago’s Department of Environment?

One of former Mayor Daley’s accomplishments in attempting to make Chicago an environmentally-friendly city was establishing a Department of Environment almost two decades ago.  The department now has many responsibilities and services it provides to Chicago residents.  Just a few include inspecting complaints about environmental problems, working to make recycling services available, teaching residents about best environmental practices for everything from home improvement to gardening, and providing a safe, responsible place to drop off household hazardous wastes and e-wastes.

Recently, change has come to the Department of Environment, and not necessarily more progressive change.  Commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna was let go when Mayor Emanuel took office.

[Former Chicago Transportation Authority head] Rich Rodriguez will take over as commissioner of the Department of Environment, where he will oversee a one-year review of the department’s operations. Over the next year, Rodriguez will conduct an audit of the department’s functions and determine how best to carry them out, Emanuel’s transition office said.

The previous commissioner was a trained horticulturalist.  Commissioner Rodriguez does not appear to have any specific environmental training and was responsible for overseeing budget and service cuts at the CTA.  Time will tell if this audit involves spinning off responsibilities to other departments, eliminating some of the services mentioned above,  or even shutting the Department of Environment down altogether in a cost-cutting measure.  Such moves would hamper Chicago’s attempts to be an environmentally-friendly city.

Should any major changes occur with the Department of Environment, we will discuss them here.  Students in Roosevelt University’s Sustainability Studies program (including in the courses SUST 210 The Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste) have benefited greatly from the department’s activities, be they visits to the household and hazardous waste dropoff facility on Goose Island or taking advantage of the many programs offered at the Chicago Center for Green Technology.  We hope that we are able to continue that relationship for many years to come as our students learn how to develop and live in sustainable cities, and we hope the recent developments in the department are not a troubling sign of things to come.

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