Buckner May 18

Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th), who sponsored House Bill 4383, speaks at a May 18 news conference at which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measure that regulates "ghost guns."

State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th) has released a list of environmental goals for his mayoral administration should voters elect him next year, with a focus on environmental justice, sustainability and collaborative work and financing with the state and federal governments.

"Chicago has a real chance to get this right, to be the tip of the spear and lead the country in what a clean, green, sustainable, environmentally just big city looks like," he said in an interview. 

Should he be elected, he would establish a staffed Department of Environment to create a comprehensive plan to address environmental threats to the city and a hundred-day Climate Blueprint Plan to target emission reductions and decrease consumption of fossil fuels. He said he would work with the county on efforts to finance cheap energy efficiency at a property level. 

Buckner added that he would reconfigure the industrial zoning process to "ensure no community is unnecessarily burdened."

"We know that, for a very long time, Chicago was ‘the industrial city.’ So we still have the remnants of being that industrial city here," he said. "We have recycling and metal shredders and folks who are 'toxic polluters' who are very often situated in these sacrifice zones, specifically in places like the Southeast Side of Chicago, but there has been a big threat of this in places like Pilsen as well.

Buckner also pointed to the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act that passed in 2021, which provides billions of dollars in funding for energy transition by shifting away from coal power to renewables and installing green workforces and infrastructure like electric vehicle purchases and chargers. He said the city will miss out on resources and momentum like this if it doesn't attach itself to recent state policymaking. 

"I think the city has operated in a piecemeal fashion when it comes to resources for environmental justice and sustainability, and part of that is because there is no Department of Environment in City Hall anymore," he said.

"The city not having the ability to coordinate with the Illinois (Environmental Protection Agency) on who gets permits, what those look like, who, more importantly, doesn't get a permit and how we do remediation, how we're sure that we're following the data on what's happening in these communities. That's been a huge deficit in this administration, and that will change immediately once we stand up a Department of Environment and give them the resources to actually do their job," he said.

In addition to plans to reach 100% renewable energy by 2035, he wants to change out lead service lines by splitting the city into priority zones for the work, saying the city is unsystematically doing so now. In September, WTTW reported that the city has only replaced 0.5% of eligible lead pipes. 

There are federal dollars to do this through the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan signed into law last year. "There is a lot of money that's available at the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency) level that's going to be able to come down to municipalities across the country," Buckner said. 

To control flooding, a problem getting worse even along Lake Michigan’s shores as climate change accelerates, Buckner would work with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to develop an alternative solution to the city's current combined sewer system, in which wastewater and stormwater combine into the same pipes, which has resulted in sanitary waste pollution during deluges. He would like to install infrastructure like permeable pavement that allows rainfall and snowmelt to seep into covered ground.

He supports preserving Promontory Point's limestone revetment as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other entities begin work to buttress the peninsula park. He said he has been aware of the park’s erosion issue since he worked on U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) staff 15 years ago. 

"After conversations with neighbors, advocates and folks who do this work for a living, it's important to me that we take a preservationist approach to this, to make sure that we're preserving, getting this right and not putting ourselves in a worse position," Buckner said.

There is also federal infrastructure money available for urban open spaces, lead pipe replacement and a number of other green issues. The problem, Buckner charged, is that the city is not going to Washington with cohesive plans for green investments. 

"Coordination is key in many ways when we talk about real sustainability, real environmental justice, protecting our waterways, our systems and our lakefront as well."

It's that collaborationist impulse that Buckner says positions him to be a good executive as mayor.

"What Chicago really is asking for right now is leadership and vision that can bring people together, and that's something that this mayor has proven that she is not able or willing to do," he said. "My track record as a public official in Springfield has been one of finding a way to solutions, finding a way to 'yes' instead of getting stuck at 'no.'"

He pointed to his ability to bring the American Civil Liberties Union and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the banking lobby to support the organized retail crime bill that aims to prevent “smash-and-grabs” by improving prosecutorial abilities against the crimes’ organizers. "The leadership came to me to figure out how to do that, and I got it done," said Buckner.

He pointed to his negotiations with labor, environmentalists and utility companies over the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.

"People want a mayor to be fighting for them, and it's not always about 'compromise' — it's about finding a way to get to the right answer. But I'm the first legislator in the Midwest to take on the gun lobby and win," he said, pointing to his legislation that bans unserialized "ghost guns" in Illinois

"Not only do I have the ability to fight, but I have the ability to bring folks together and find a solution, which has eluded this mayor in her last three and a half years in office," Buckner said.

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