U.S. Mayor Article

Chicago, Metropolitan Mayors Forge Clean Air Strategy

May 14, 2001

Under Mayor Richard M. Daley's leadership, all 270 communities in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area have joined together under the auspices of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to develop clean air strategies that will simultaneously promote economic development. The region has been designated as non-attainment for ozone under the Clean Air Act, further complicating efforts to attract new businesses to brownfield sites.


Like other major metropolitan regions across the country, the Chicago area has experienced air quality problems. Specifically, the area has been found to be in violation of EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. Currently, the city and six surrounding counties are classified as severe non-attainment for ozone.

Throughout the region, local leaders are motivated to address this issue. Poor air quality carries with it significant costs in terms of public health and general quality of life for residents, and a non-attainment designation puts the region at a disadvantage in terms of attracting new business.

Alexandra Holt, Deputy Commissioner of the City's Department of Environment, explains, "if you're in a non-attainment region like we are, and a manufacturing facility wants to locate or expand its operations here, first it has to find another company who will sell it 1.3 tons of emissions credits for every one ton of emissions the new facility will emit. Well, for many businesses it's just easier for them to pass us up and locate where they don't have to go through this process."

The Chicago region is unique in that it has an existing forum for addressing air quality, as well as other issues, across municipal jurisdictions. This forum is the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC), which was convened in 1997 by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to deal with issues of regional concern. The Caucus includes representatives from the 270 municipalities in the six-county region. Making clean air and economic development mutually reinforcing is a top priority of the organization.

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Clean Air Task Force

Above all, MMC members understand and strongly support the need for progress in terms of air quality. However, members are concerned that national and state policies sometimes unintentionally hamper economic development and carry negative consequences. This concern has grown with the adoption by EPA of even stricter air quality standards. To address this issue, the MMC established the Clean Air Task Force. The mission of the task force is to build the capacity of local governments to work together in defining and implementing practical strategies for improving the region's air quality that also support economic development goals.

In order to involve stakeholders in discussions about these issues, the Task Force created the Regional Clean Air Dialogue in March of 1999. The dialogue provides a mechanism for a wide range of input-including federal, state and local governments, the business and civic community, and environmentalists.

The Task Force has developed strategies for local governments to reduce emissions. These initiatives include constructing a network of alternative fueling stations throughout the region, conducting a six-county lawnmower buy-back program, switching to low VOC-emitting paints and coatings, and converting public lawns to native landscapes.

According to Holt, two of the biggest achievements thus far have been the lawnmower buy-back program and the regional network of alternative fueling stations.

A lawnmower buy-back program was undertaken in the Spring of 2000. At eight collection sites throughout the region, citizens turned in gas-powered mowers for a rebate on electric, battery, and manual mowers. In the end, it was estimated that the program reduced the equivalent of two tons of VOCs for the season.

More recently, using federal CMAQ funds, the Task Force has begun constructing alternative fueling stations throughout the region to help smaller communities comply with clean fuel fleet requirements. "Many communities don't have the resources to build an alternative fueling station," says Holt. "However, if we expect communities to buy alternative fuel vehicles, they need somewhere to fuel them." When completed the network will have stations servicing almost 30 communities across the region.

To track the air quality benefits of projects like these, the Task Force has developed a special computer model. The model will assist the jurisdictions in obtaining credit for their actions under the state's air quality implementation plan, thus opening the door for more economic development in the region.

Currently, the Task Force is looking for incentives that will encourage communities to implement additional clean air measures. One idea they have had, says Holt, is to recognize communities for good efforts. As a result, the Task Force is developing an awards program to reward communities for clean air activities that reduce emissions. Beyond these programs, the Task Force supports a new regulatory approach, one that shifts focus from industrial pollution (i.e., large visible stationary facilities, "smokestacks") to small area and mobile sources of emissions. In the Chicago area, fixed facilities account for less than 18 percent of air emissions, whereas 50 percent comes from cars and trucks, and another 30 percent from small sources, e.g., lawnmowers. "In order to comply with the next round of ozone requirements," says Holt, "it is Mayor Daley's belief that we need to concentrate on the biggest sources: cars, trucks, construction equipment, lawn equipment and the like."

Mayor Daley's focus, according to Holt, is for municipalities to reduce emissions from mobile and area sources by encouraging projects such as lawnmower buy-backs, small incinerator bans, "green buildings," and transit-oriented development. To back these efforts up, says Holt, the mayor would like to see the federal government give technical assistance and regulatory credit to local governments who implement these types of projects. The federal government could further assist these efforts by requiring higher fuel efficiencies for sports utility and other large vehicles, she adds.

Contact Information:
Alexandra Holt, Deputy Environmental Commissioner
City of Chicago
V: (312) 744-3172
E: aholt@cityofchicago.org
Website: www.delta-institute.org

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