January 05, 2011

Filling Daley's Big Green Shoes

With the race to be Chicago's next mayor heating up, one major issue that has been a hallmark of Mayor Richard Daley's time in office has received little attention so far - what is to become of Mayor Daley's goal of being the greenest city in America, if not the world, after he steps down in May.

Daley's passion for the environment is well known, and has brought major changes that will benefit Chicagoans for generations to come. His efforts have reached far beyond median planters and other beautification efforts - the changes you don't see every day have been less visible, but much more significant. Across city government, public servants have been tasked with being smarter about how they use energy, and cutting the waste they create. Building codes and permitting processes have led the private sector to change how they build homes and businesses in Chicago.

Chicago's leadership has been important beyond our city or state boundaries. During the Bush Administration, when national action to confront climate change or move to cleaner energy wasn't even seriously discussed, Daley was an early leader in a nationwide movement of mayors who pledged not to wait for a change in Washington to fight global warming. Chicago and other "cool cities" started showing America what fighting climate change looked like, and it looked like cleaner air, reduced government costs, better, smarter buildings, and many more bright ideas.

Daley's vision for greening Chicago has been revolutionary, but it has not yet been fully realized. Chicago is still home to two very old coal-fired power plants without modern pollution controls. Most Chicagoans don't have access to convenient, weekly recycling service. The Chicago River is much cleaner, but still suffers from outdated sewage treatment practices. The artificial connection between Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines/Illinois River has been great for sending Chicago's sewage southwest to Peoria, St. Louis, and the Gulf of Mexico, but it has opened the door to Great Lakes invasive species. Our park system is wonderful, but more than ever our kids need access to safe, healthy, outdoor experiences in their neighborhoods.

Whether Chicago meets these challenges, and reaps the health and job creation benefits of doing so, depends in large part on its next mayor, and whether he or she brings passion and commitment to doing so. That's why Sierra Club and other Chicago environmental organizations have prepared a platform of the major issues facing the next mayor.

Sierra Club is actively meeting candidates for Mayor and City Council, identifying those who have the ideas and commitment to make Chicago the greenest city on the planet. Soon we will announce our endorsements of the candidates we recommend to all the Chicagoans who want the "city that works" to be the city that leads America and the world to a smarter, cleaner future.

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