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There oughta be a law

Friday, Jun 26, 2020 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From the Illinois Environmental Protection Act

In granting permits, the Agency may impose reasonable conditions specifically related to the applicant’s past compliance history with this Act as necessary to correct, detect, or prevent noncompliance. The Agency may impose such other conditions as may be necessary to accomplish the purposes of this Act, and as are not inconsistent with the regulations promulgated by the Board hereunder.

* IEPA press release from yesterday…

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has issued a construction permit to General III, LLC, along with a document responding to public comments.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Act requires the Illinois EPA to issue a construction permit to an applicant upon a showing that the proposed facility or equipment will not cause a violation of the Act or Pollution Control Board regulations. In such a case, as it is here, the Illinois EPA does not have discretion to deny the permit, but does have the authority to enhance the permit by adding special conditions tailored to the proposed operation – accordingly, such conditions have been included in this particular permit. In addition, an applicant’s past or on-going compliance issues must be addressed through the Agency’s compliance and enforcement programs. This stems from past court rulings holding that permitting and enforcement are two separate functions, that enforcement cannot be conducted through permitting activity, and that the Agency must not deny or base a permit decision upon mere allegations that a source is violating or has violated applicable requirements.

General III is a scrap metal recycling facility to be located at 11600 South Burley Avenue in Chicago. The permit application was received by Illinois EPA on September 25, 2019, and multiple extensions of the statutory decision deadline were obtained to allow sufficient time to review the application and allow for public input. The facility will receive recyclable material for shredding and processing that will be regulated and controlled through the permit’s terms and conditions.

The facility is being moved from its existing location in the Lincoln Park area to the southeast side of Chicago. The Illinois EPA has no legal role in the zoning or siting of facilities; where a facility may locate is the exclusive determination of units of local government, in this case, the City of Chicago. The move of the current General II facility comes following a deal reached in September 2019 between the City of Chicago and General Iron Industries, the owner and operator of the existing General II facility, and RMG Investment Group, LLC, the owner and operator of the new facility. The term sheet signed by those parties calls for the facility to cease operations at its Lincoln Park location by the end of 2020 in conjunction with the relocation of the facility to the new southeast side location. The Illinois EPA was not a party to this agreement. The existing General II location is adjacent to Sterling Bay’s new Lincoln Yards development.

The Illinois EPA is aware of the high level of public concern over this project. To allow for oral and written public comments while still adhering to social distancing requirements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois EPA held an afternoon and evening “virtual” public hearing to provide two opportunities for participation and also opened a written public comment period of 77 days to accept public input over the proposed draft permit. Over the two public hearings, which were accessible by video web connection, smartphone app, or telephone dial-in, a total of 21 citizens provided oral comments and 203 people participated. At the close of the written comment period, 329 people provided written statements or other submissions or exhibits.

After consideration of all public comments and further review of the permit application and proposed project, the Illinois EPA strengthened the protections afforded by the permit and fulfilled its obligations under law and to the public to create a strict, enforceable, and comprehensive permit.

The special permit conditions impose additional requirements upon General III including:

    • Limitations on emissions and hours of operation based on modeling of hazardous metallic pollutants
    • Extensive initial and follow-up emissions testing, including capture efficiency testing
    • Installation and operation of monitoring devices
    • Development and implementation of Fugitive Emissions Operating Program
    • Development and implementation of Feedstock Management Plan
    • Development and implementation of Operation and Maintenance Plan
    • Addition of LEL Monitoring System to the exhaust from the capture system associated with the Hammermill Shredder System, and associated recordkeeping and reporting requirements to prevent explosions at the Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer

A copy of the final construction permit and responsiveness summary are available on the Illinois EPA’s website. Cut and paste the below links into your web browser. and

However, before the company may begin operations at the Burley Avenue location, it must also receive permits from the City of Chicago, including one pursuant to the City’s new rules for large recycling facilities. The new rules, effective June 5, 2020, implement the City’s Recycling Facility ordinance and include additional requirements that General Iron must meet in order to begin operating at the southeast side location. The City’s rules provide minimum standards for what is required in a permit application, including information to demonstrate that the facility will be designed and operated in a manner that prevents public nuisance and protects the public health, safety, and the environment. The rules also contain location, operational, and design standards applicable to large recycling facilities such as General III, including vehicle and traffic requirements, noise monitoring, air quality standards, and air emission monitoring.

The Illinois EPA recognizes the growing concerns surrounding the location and relocation of emissions sources in communities or neighborhoods that have historically been disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution, particularly areas identified as environmental justice areas. Environmental justice policies and activities should be continually evolving. Oftentimes multiple state and local entities play a role throughout the process of zoning and permitting a facility. The Illinois EPA is committed to continuing to work with legislators, environmental justice advocacy groups, municipalities including the City of Chicago, and other interested parties to identify and implement additional state and local policies to expand statutory protections for environmental justice communities.

* Tribune coverage

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is the last hurdle for a troubled but clout-heavy scrap shredder seeking to move from wealthy, largely white Lincoln Park to a low-income, predominantly Latino neighborhood on Chicago’s Southeast Side.

Brushing aside opposition from neighborhood groups and elected officials, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration on Thursday granted General Iron Industries a permit to build a new scrap yard along the Calumet River in the East Side neighborhood.

Pritzker appointees at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said state law gave them no choice, despite the company’s repeated violations of federal and local health laws.

Moving General Iron would rid the city’s North Side of metallic odors and unsightly piles of flattened cars, twisted rebar and used appliances. But community leaders on the Southeast Side contend Pritzker is perpetuating environmental racism by approving the company’s new location in a neighborhood that has struggled to recover since the steel industry abandoned it during the 1980s. […]

Jordan Abudayyeh, the governor’s chief spokeswoman, said the administration’s “hands were tied” by judicial interpretations of state law. She took a swipe at “statewide or national” advocates, suggesting it was up to them to propose legislation that would address “a broader regulatory problem that most severely impacts the health and safety of low-income communities — especially those of color.”

* The company itself essentially agrees that this is environmental racism on the part of the city

General Iron and partner RMG have said that the pollution controls proposed for the facility will be “state of the art.” The “decision to build this shredding operation on the Southeast Side was prompted by political and business realities,” company officials said in a letter to Illinois EPA June 15.

“A narrative has been constructed around this operation being moved from a rich white neighborhood to a lower income neighborhood where a majority of the population comprises people of color. Those facts are not in dispute,” company executives said in their letter. General Iron “was essentially zoned out of business,” they added, a reference to the $6 billion Lincoln Yards development being built around the car and industrial metal shredder’s longtime home at 1909 N. Clifton Ave.

* Environmental advocates strenuously contend that the IEPA has too narrowly interpreted case law on denying permits. They essentially made the same argument during the Sterigenics debate. But it looks to me like the statute needs to be changed.

And there actually was legislation introduced earlier this year to address this very issue

Provides that the Environmental Protection Agency shall ensure that possible adverse economic, social, and environmental effects on environmental justice communities relating to any permit or permit renewal have been fully considered prior to publishing a draft permit or permit renewal for public comment, and that the final decision on the permit or permit renewal is made in the best overall public interest

But the bill went nowhere and none of the legislators who recently sent a letter to the governor about General Iron signed on to the legislation.

…Adding… The IEPA responded to the objecting legislators. Click here to read the letter.


  1. - Mr. Cermak - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 11:32 am:

    The Gov and his deputy gov didn’t hesitate to push the bounds of their authority when it came to white and rich Willowbrook when they shut down Sterigenics.

  2. - FaceMasking - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 11:39 am:

    Mr. Cermak - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 11:32 am:

    The Gov and his deputy gov didn’t hesitate to push the bounds of their authority when it came to white and rich Willowbrook when they shut down Sterigenics.

    Preach. This looks like an unnecessary self-inflicted wound on and by Gov. JB. Was he worried about the state getting sued all of a sudden–enough to completely ignore several prominent members of Springfield’s Black Caucus. As one Illinois politico once said, it seems kind of “crass.”

  3. - DuPage Saint - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 11:40 am:

    Mr Cermak. You are absolutely correct. Alderman must want it. Don’t Chicago Alderman have absolute control on zoning issues? Or Mayor really wants it. This does not seem right at all

  4. - Proud Sucker - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 12:05 pm:

    As frustrating as IEPA has been throughout my 30+ year career, in this case, I think they are right. If the statute had been amended, then they would have been able to do more.
    That plus the Trib calling them out, especially those “Pritzker appointees” which consist of, maybe, two people, actually makes me feel sad for IEPA. I just checked and Julie Armitage is still Air Bureau chief and has been at IEPA for years and I think she’s still married to Gary Hannig’s brother, so that’s way before Pritzker.

  5. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 12:31 pm:

    In Chicago, when your water heater goes out and you replace it, you put the old one in the alley. Typically it’s gone by the end of the day. There are dozens of self-employed men and women who patrol Chicago’s alleys and collect scrap metal. Almost everything they collect each day is traded for cash at General Iron.

    I worked on an Aldermanic campaign in 1991, as Clybourn began to turn from an avenue of dilapidated warehouses into a booming Yuppie retail paradise. Somehow, Finkl Steel and General Iron endured. Now Finkl is gone, and as more and more condos were built surrounding General Iron, it was only a matter of time before the new residents discovered that having such a facility in the neighborhood literally stinks.

    So they organized and agitated and the result is that a wealthy neighborhood is essentially forcing this messy but necessary business out of Lincoln Park. The rub is that it has to go somewhere, and most likely, whereever that somewhere is will have poorer people living in it that Lincoln Parl.

    The city needs General Iron. Streets and Sanitation cannot collect all of the junk that these independent people collect. THe city will choke on its own scrap metal if there isn’t a company like General Iron to monetize scrap.

    Politically, this is dynamite, but to me, the moral of the story is, affluent white neighborhoods have the clout to force this away. If only the concern about pollution in urban areas extended to the low income neighborhoods too. Sadly, it doesn’t.

    If you buy a condo next to a scrap yard, you should expect to have dust and other pollutants wafting through your home. The city took a commercial/industrial corridor and turned it into a restaurant/retail/residential neighborhood. It was only a matter of time before General Iron got forced out.

  6. - Last Bull Moose - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 12:31 pm:

    As I read it, there already is a law. Maybe we need to add some sort of three strikes provision on companies that deliberately break the laws. That did not work for Lincoln Towing.

    The problem is that some companies are unpleasant neighbors doing essential services. These operations must be located somewhere. They usually end up where land is cheap, and often already polluted.

  7. - dbk - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 12:35 pm:

    Yep, there oughta be a law.

    In the meantime, however, the additional “requirements” being imposed on General Iron by the IEPA might prove dispositive in persuading them to search elsewhere for a new location.

  8. - DuPage - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 12:53 pm:

    @- DuPage Saint - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 11:40 am:

    ===Mr Cermak. You are absolutely correct. Alderman must want it. Don’t Chicago Alderman have absolute control on zoning issues? Or Mayor really wants it. This does not seem right at all===

    I saw a news report a few months ago that Lightfoot took most power away from the Aldermen. She has more power to override Aldermen on these decisions.

  9. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 2:18 pm:

    47th ward, I live near General Iron. It doesn’t stink. Yes there were some unforeseen explosions last month.
    Some of the people who work there live on my street. They will pollute more driving from their homes to the south side. General Iron is a good neighbor, has added to the tax base (unlike the tax sucking Lincoln Yards project) and is a great place to take my 6 year old to see a crane grab a washing machine like a toy and swing it around. I will be sad to see it go.

  10. - FaceMasking - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 3:31 pm:

    Da Big Bad Wolf, :”and is a great place to take my 6 year old to see a crane grab a washing machine like a toy and swing it around. I will be sad to see it go.”
    At least we can still chip lead paint off the walls and eat it.

  11. - 4 percent - Friday, Jun 26, 20 @ 4:18 pm:

    Illinois has a law and it worked as intended. There is a clear separation between permitting and enforcing. The EPA can refer cases to the Attorney General for enforcement. With all respect, this should be a professional regulatory process - if too much control or leverage is extended to community organizations, there will be a decrease in investment.

    Local communities have zoning authority.
    The company has to get state (and maybe federal) permits that must meet legal requirments.
    The AG can enforce.

  12. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Monday, Jun 29, 20 @ 5:17 pm:

    FaceMasking: No thanks, but I can tell by your comment lead paint chips were a favorite snack of yours growing up.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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