Members of Evanston’s Environment Board and the Equity and Empowerment Commission discussed improvements to be made to the Environmental Justice draft resolution at a public memorandum Thursday night.
The draft resolution expressed the city’s intent to “mitigate environmental consequences and health risks resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations in all of its neighborhoods.” It outlined a groundwork for integrating Environmental Justice objectives into city code in the form of an ordinance, as well as fostering public participation in the process.
Dr. Tim Eberhart, a member of the Equity and Empowerment Commission and Environmental Justice Evanston (EJE), said that the discussion with the board was constructive and raised his hopes for future progress.
“We’re pleased,” he said. “This is a resolution that different citizen groups have been working on for almost a full decade now, and so to see this moving forward is a great success.”
Notable revisions included a call for broader inclusivity in language. Members of the board and commission acknowledged the issue posed by barriers to public participation in the process for some due to age, ability, address and more.
Other suggestions called for a formal recognition of disparities experienced by working class communities or areas historically populated by people of color. Doreen Price, who attended the event, said that equity is crucial to the development of an effective, fair resolution.
“We’re gonna fail at that if we don’t look at social justice,” Price said.
Eberhart said that it’s meaningful that the city is starting a dialogue about the social dimension of the issue, especially since this is the first time the Environment Board and the Equity and Empowerment Commission have formally met together.
“Historically, environmental groups have not always considered issues of equity, or rather inequity, whether that’s racial inequity or socioeconomic equity—and groups working on equity have not always considered environmental frameworks.”
Attendee Sue Carlson said that she’s excited to see the resolution address environmental justice concerns as well as social ones at a time when issues such as reparation and equity are at the forefront of the minds of many residents.
“I think it really commits the city to some things that are gonna take a lot of time and a lot of effort,” Carlson said.
According to Rick Nelson, a member of EJE, once the resolution passes the board and commission, it will go through the Legal Department of Evanston, the Planning Committee of the city council and then finally the city council itself. Once the draft is passed, it won’t affect public policy until its objectives are integrated into city code by the passage of an ordinance.
“This is going to probably take minimally the rest of the year,” Nelson said. “And so we have a very, very heavy focus on this. Because we’ve been working on this for a while, we have some momentum.”
It is a long road ahead, and the resolution has a lot of time before it can create positive change in the community, but Eberhart said the memorandum helped keep things moving.
“There’s a lot of work yet ahead, but we’re pleased that we’re making this step,” he said.