Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel committed the City of Chicago to an equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy, thus reaffirming Chicago’s leadership on the challenge of climate change.
The pledge, announced Feb. 14 at a meeting on Resilient Chicago, was a big step in the right direction, as many in Chicago’s front-line communities continue to deal with large polluters in their backyards.
In Pilsen and Little Village, for instance, where environmental-justice activists succeeded in shutting down two coal-fired power plants in 2012, city planners are now considering a massive warehousing and distribution center.
Rose Gomez, an organizer for Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), said the closure of the power plants lifted a health threat to the surrounding neighborhoods. But now, the community is at risk again.
“Years later, we are forced to deal with the harms of toxic air pollutants in our backyard again that would come from a planned diesel truck depot,” Gomez said.
Local officials are working to fight the challenge of climate change and put in place safer environmental protection plans. In November 2017, Logan Square-area Aldermen Carlos Ramirez Rosa, Joe Moreno and Deborah Mell joined 12 other Chicago aldermen in sponsoring a resolution calling on Congress to pass legislation that would transition the entire United States to clean energy.
“Today, I stand strong with 14 cosponsors on a resolution to endorse a National Carbon Fee and Dividend. This national bill will place a steadily rising fee on fossil carbon-based fuels that equitably returns net revenue to households,” Ald. Mell wrote in a Facebook post.
Recent research from the University of Chicago suggests that particulate matter, which is one of the air pollutants stemming from the burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for shortening longevity by nearly two years worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, the WHO put air pollution and climate change at the top of their list of 10 global health threats for 2019.
“The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would correct the broken economic incentives that currently favor fossil fuels,” Gomez said.
After 120 U.S. cities passed similar resolutions, this “Carbon Fee and Dividend” policy materialized into the first bipartisan carbon pricing legislation introduced in Congress in a decade, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (also known as H.R. 763).
Logan Square resident Dylan Schweitzer is an Associate Equity Analyst and a volunteer for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. His background in finance and business has shaped his view about the economics of climate change, which he sees can be solved by charging a fee for those who pollute the environment.
“The reason we have so much air pollution now is because it’s free to pollute,” Schweitzer said. “The solution is easy: charge a fee for pollution. By correcting the price of these fuels to account for health and climate costs, renewable energy can compete on a more level playing field.”
Under H.R. 763, 100 percent of the net revenue generated by the carbon fee would be
“The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is a market-based, revenue-neutral solution to climate change,” said Shan Agrawal, a Logan Square resident and co-leader of one of three Chicago chapters of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. “It is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent within 12 years, and 90 percent by 2050.”
By moving toward clean energy sources, this policy would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would also reduce the co-pollutants released by fossil fuels, such as particulate matter, which affect public health.
With a challenge as large as climate change, it’s important to have as many options on the table as possible. H.R. 763 would provide one vehicle through which Chicago, and the United States, could reach the goal of 100 percent clean energy.
Featured photo: Citizens’ Climate Lobby’ June Lobby Day in D.C.
Justin Pelczarski is a physical therapist who is passionate about advocating for public health legislation. He spends his free time volunteering with Citizens’ Climate Lobby in Chicago.