The Illinois House on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to a measure that would ban the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from issuing permits for new or expanded landfills within Cook County. The legislation would halt the proposed expansion of a landfill that straddles the border between Chicago and Dolton.
By a vote of 63-49 with six representatives voting “present,” the House backed the bill that prevents state EPA officials from issuing permits in counties of 2 million or more people.
Among area legislators, state Reps. Marcus Evans Jr., D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor, and state Rep. Al Riley, D-Hazel Crest, voted for the bill, while state Reps. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, and Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, voted against it. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, voted “present.”
The measure already had received state Senate approval, and House passage sends it to Gov. Pat Quinn for final consideration.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Wednesday in an email message to The Times, “We support that legislation and look forward to reviewing the bill once it reaches the governor’s desk.”
Activists from Chicago’s Southeast Side were pleased with Wednesday’s vote. They supported the bill because they want it to stop Land and Lakes Co. from expanding its landfill at 138th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
“Knowing the Lake Calumet region will have the opportunity to recover and renew will allow us to move forward with the promise of a higher quality of life in the future,” said Tom Shepherd, a spokesman for the Southeast Environmental Task Force, based in Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood.
House debate on the issue lasted about a half-hour, with Evans, a Chatham neighborhood resident, saying there are times he can detect the odor of decomposing trash from his home.
David Bayless, a public relations consultant working on behalf of Land and Lakes, objected to that thought, saying landfills are treated in ways to control smell.
“It’s really a misnomer that there’s an odor,” he said.*
Jones, who was not available to comment, was telling people at the State Capitol in Springfield he wants to hold hearings during the summer months to answer questions from people who oppose landfills. Jones said he had tried to sway Evans into postponing a vote on the bill until the Legislature’s fall veto session in November.
The House vote occurred five days after a Cook County judge ruled in favor of Land and Lakes Co., which wants to disconnect the Chicago portion of its landfill to put the entire facility into Dolton.
Chicago has a moratorium against landfill operation that runs at least through 2025, while Dolton does not. If the bill becomes law, the proposed deannexation would become moot.
Company officials have said the area would benefit if the shift from Chicago to Dolton were allowed. They say they would engage in environmental cleanup of the area that would create up to 135 acres of open land during the next decade, while also giving the company disposal capacity for up to three decades.
In a prepared statement, the company said if the legislation becomes law, such improvements will not take place.
“The bill guarantees that a closed landfill in Chicago will remain a brownfield for generations to come. The bill means there is no opportunity for Land and Lakes to add environmental upgrades and develop green amenities consistent with what South Side residents want over the long term.”
* Editor's note: This sentence has been clarified from an earlier version. Bayless denied that Land and Lakes is the sole source of odors and said that the primary source is very likely other, larger nearby facilities.