Chicago Leads the Way in Sustainability Policies on Climate Change

Over the last ten years, the City of Chicago has made inroads in reducing pollution in carbon emissions. According to a recent study, Chicago has used traditional planning and land-use authorities to become the North American leader in green building practices. Chicago has also aggressively been using its buying and convening power to lead as a model to other cities. Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has led an effort to shut down the last remaining coal plants in Chicago. 

Like all cities, Chicago has limited authority to control climate change. Governments strive to regulate emissions or industry energy-efficiency standards. The federal statutes reserve most of the authority for national government on climate issues. In order for a city to fit into the federal regulations, it must take independent action to make an impact.

One way that cities work around the Federal Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency is to work with land-use regulation that cities do control. Zoning and planning allows each individual city to shape physical and economic development in its area. 

Chicago leads the United States in green roofs and Leadership in Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, including the building that I work in at 55 West Monroe St.

The City of Chicago first implemented sustainable development policies in 2004 under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Chicago has also used one of its strongest tools for driving economic development, tax increment financing (TIF).  TIFs are authorized under state law in Illinois to encourage investment in targeted areas. There are certain conditions that must be met, including decay or underperformance in that particular area. When a TIF district is created, property-tax rates are locked in at the present value. TIF is an important tool for Chicago’s economic development.  There are 163 active TIF districts, which generate $500 million in revenue each year. 

The City of Chicago was successful in shutting down the Fisk and Crawford coal plants. The Emanuel Administration was successful in that it reached an agreement to close the Fisk and Crawford coal plants by the end of 2012 and 2014, respectively.

Chicago’s reputation as one of the greenest cities in the United States did not come about without facing some obstacles. States generally control what cities can do in terms of the air and water quality.  In addition to using Chicago’s planning authorities and financial-incentive programs to make it a global leader in green roofs and LEED certified buildings, Chicago also used its bulk buying power with respect to electricity. Chicago is an example of how cities can be successful at pursuing sustainability on the local level and improve carbon emissions for the future.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois trial and litigation matters for businesses, individuals and families for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Blue Island, Maywood, Homewood, Rolling Meadows, Chicago (Irving Park, Wicker Park, Logan Square) and Schaumburg, Ill.

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