Our first piece of legislation was an ordinance creating the Cook County Environmental Commission. This Commission brings together 9 people from various sectors of Cook County who a background in environmental matters. Each year, the Commission decides on 3 goals for the Commission: an “easy,” “medium,” and “difficult” goal.
Click here to read the ordinance.
2020 Environmental Commission Goals
Composting is the process of using organic food waste to enrich soil, which can help to facilitate plant growth. Composting has many environmental benefits. It reduces methane emissions, aids in carbon sequestration, and reduces storm-water runoff. Composting can serve as a replacement for chemical fertilizers, as farmers use composting to stimulate crop growth and experience higher crop-yields as a result.
When food waste is not composted and is instead thrown in landfills, it emits a harmful greenhouse gas called methane. Roughly one third of food from agriculture production is either wasted, or lost in the production-phase. This ends up totaling an economic loss of approximately $680 billion for industrialized countries. Food waste is responsible for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions, and if it were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the United States. Industrial composting programs are necessary in addressing the extensive problems associated with food waste. Large-scale composting provides countless benefits, including regenerative ecological systems, jobs, and food supplies.
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Greenhouse gas emissions have led to catastrophic results associated with climate change, including natural disasters, drastic sea level rises, and pollution-related health problems. Tree-planting is an essential component of addressing this climate crisis. Trees not only offer a variety of environmental benefits that can offset some of the negative effects of climate change, but additionally provide monetary, health, and social benefits. Trees sequester, on average, 48 pounds of carbon per year, and one ton over a life cycle. Additionally, trees provide cooling benefits and storm water run-off absorption qualities that can save cities hundreds of thousands of dollars. The city of Berkley found in a study that their trees saved roughly $215,645 in storm-water runoff mitigation and approximately $458,994 in electricity costs. Additionally, significant mood benefits as well as property value increases of up to 19% have been documented in association with a higher presence of trees. Cook County is implementing its own tree-planting and tree-maintenance program to help mitigate the effects of climate change, as the planting of trees is a vital and effective step toward increasing social welfare for citizens, as well as preserving the condition of its environment.
Many native plant species are not only aesthetically pleasing, but are beneficial to the environment. Native plants help with storm water absorption, reduce erosion, and provide food and shelter for local wildlife. They also require less water than grass and other plants, do not need fertilizers or pesticides, and do not require mowing. However, Chicago’s current ordinance on weeds is vague and broad. Many people who purposely cultivate native gardens are then fined by the City under the weed ordinance.
By amending this ordinance to distinguish between purposely cultivated native plants and weeds, we can encourage people to choose low maintenance native gardens without fear of fines.
Chair: Commissioner Bridget Degnen
Commissioner Bridget Degnen received her undergraduate degree in environmental engineering, and went on to become a lawyer working in both private and public sectors. She also served as the Deputy General Counsel of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and went on to serve as the Deputy Director of Medical Cannabis. As Cook County Commissioner, combating climate change is a top priority.
Cook County President Appointee: Commissioner Dennis Deer
Commissioner Dennis Deer is the Vice Chair of the Environmental Commission, and the Chair of the Cook County Environmental Committee. Commissioner Deer graduated from Jackson State University, earning his Bachelor of Science in Elementary/Special Education and a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Psychology. He later earned his PhD in Christian Psychology, and has engaged in a variety of community service endeavors in spheres of economic development, affordable housing, healthcare, and education.
Mayoral Appointee: Alderman George Cardenas
Alderman George Cardenas serves as Alderman of the 12th Ward and is the Chairman of the Health and Environmental Protection Committee. He is committed to improving educational opportunities for children, reducing crime, and bringing real economic development and job opportunities into the 12th Ward.
Non Profit Sector: Douglas Stotz
Douglas Stotz, Ph.D., is the senior conservation ecologist for the Field Museum. He is also involved in many groups and non-profits in Chicago. Doug co-leads the Monarch Conservation Program which focuses on developing tools to create habitats for monarch butterflies and other pollinators. He is also a part of Chicago Green Equity Program, which develops strategies to benefit natural areas, biodiversity and people, focusing on equity issues surrounding both environmental benefits and threats.
Corporate Sector: Robert Mead
Rob Mead is an environmental manager at Ingredion Incorporated, where he oversees environmental compliance for over 300 acres of a wet corn milling facility in Bedford Park. He also leads the company in its site sustainability programs, which focuses on energy and water conservation in both on-site and offsite locations. Rob strives to make Ingredion a leader in sustainable practices now and in the future.
Academic Sector: Mark Potosnak
Associate professor and chair of Environmental Science & Studies at DePaul University, Dr. Mark Potosnak has degrees from Harvard and Columbia Universities, and he was a fellow in the Advanced Study Program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. His research focuses on interactions between the plants and air quality. Specifically, he studies how trace gas emissions from plants affect atmospheric chemistry and how climate change will impact this interaction in the future. Dr. Potosnak also deploys low-cost air quality sensors to engage citizen scientists and to explore how spatial patterns of air quality within Chicago are related to socioeconomic drivers.
Environmental Economist: Margaret Schneemann
Margaret Schneemann is a water resource economist at the University of Illinois Extension Sea Grant College Program. In this role, she conducts economic exploration of water conservation and improved efficiency strategies, wastewater reuse, use of gray water, storm water management, and water quality protection/mitigation measures. She also designs applied research necessary to assist regional elected leaders and utilities in developing and implementing a proactive regional water supply/demand management plan. Through this work, Margaret empowers citizens, decision makers, and utilities to make informed decisions and policies based on the best science available to improve the economic and environmental health of the city and metropolitan area and its citizens.
North Triad: Sarah Lovinger
Sarah Lovinger, MD., is a physician and the executive director of Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility (Chicago PSR). PSR uniquely contributes public health expertise to climate change adaptation and mitigation planning in the Chicago area. Sarah is also a part-time internist at Heartland Health Centers, a well-regarded community health center on Chicago’s north side. She has also served on the City of Evanston’s Climate Reality Project leader, where she worked with 16 other members to develop a plan for Evanston to mitigate and adapt to climate change over the coming decades.
South Triad: Victoria Wilson
Victoria is the President and CEO of Naturally Urban Environmental Inc., which consults with companies and communities in implementing sustainable practices. Victoria received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences, with a focus on GIS/GPS technology, and soil and water chemistry. She then went on to obtain her masters in Environmental Science with a focus on industrial hygiene and toxicity. She also works as a science instructor with a non-profit to provide S.T.E.A.M. programs for kids and teens.