The Chicago Department of the Environment is back, but needs to expand

We were pleased to see Mayor Brandon Johnson’s budget proposes reviving the city’s Department of the Environment, which was disbanded more than a decade ago under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a cost-cutting move.

But we are confident that hiring 10 employees from one of the existing offices and adding four more to create the new department will be just the first step. At the time of its dismantling, the former department had about 60 employees, although many remained in other departments.

To be effective, management needs a large staff to deal with a wide range of issues, with enough people to enforce environmental rules and lead and implement initiatives that protect community health and the environment.

Under Johnson’s proposal, the Department of Public Health would continue to inspect and cite polluters, but that is a role that should be in the hands of a revived Department of Energy, which should have dedicated staff with the technical expertise to understand issues related to pollutants and toxins. .

According to Brett Chase of the Sun-Times, a 2019 analysis found that environmental law enforcement declined dramatically after Emanuel axed the original Department of Energy. Fortunately, the new administration is expected to include some well-qualified people, including the well-respected Angela Tovar, now the city’s chief sustainability officer, to head it. Tovar, as department head, will be at the Cabinet level and at the table when environmental issues are discussed.

The challenge now is to reintegrate functions that were distributed to other agencies when the original Department of Energy closed its doors. Chicago faces no shortage of environmental issues. Lead in drinking water. Communities suffering from pollutants. Transition to renewable energy. Local impacts of climate change. Sewage overflow that pollutes the river and lake. Increasing energy efficiency in buildings. And even, as we saw last week, the need to protect migratory birds from dying by the hundreds when they crash into bird-unfriendly windows at the Lakeside Center on McCormick Place.

It’s good to see Johnson making good on his campaign promise to recreate the Department of Energy, as environmentalists point out that Chicago is the only major city without such a department. Yes, increasing budget numbers is a challenge, but we hope the Mayor and City Council will find ways to protect Chicagoans by expanding the department in these and years to come.

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