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Chicago rejects car-shredder permit after EPA-backed review

February 18, 2022 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) — The city of Chicago on Friday denied a permit for a metal-shredding facility on the city’s southeast side, where residents have long complained of pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that the decision was reached after the city health department analyzed the potential environmental and health effects of the proposed Southside Recycling plant, which planned to shred junked automobiles, used appliances and other metallic waste in a mostly Latino community.

Opponents said granting a permit would amount to environmental racism because it would move a polluting business from Lincoln Park — a white, wealthy neighborhood — to a minority neighborhood that already had air-quality problems.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan praised the city’s decision.

“This is what environmental justice looks like: All levels of government working together to protect vulnerable communities from pollution in their backyards,” Regan said in a written statement.

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In a letter to Ohio-based Reserve Management Group, which owns Southside Recycling, Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the facility “proposes to undertake an inherently dangerous activity in a vulnerable community area” and that the company had failed to provide enough evidence that it could comply with a permit, the Chicago Sun-times reported.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration appeared ready to approve a permit until the EPA stepped in last May and asked the city to conduct the analysis.

Last summer, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit by Southside Recycling, formerly known as General Iron, that sought to force Chicago to issue a permit, saying its failure to do so had caused “significant and potentially permanent damage to Southside Recycling’s business.”

At the time, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. rejected the company’s claim that its constitutional rights were being violated by the delay, noting that the process hadn’t been finalized. The company sought $100 million in damages.

The company said in a statement Friday that it would “pursue all avenues to challenge this decision, including pressing our lawsuit against the city,” the Sun-Times reported.

“This decision is a clear message to any businesses or industries that might be considering expansion or investment in Chicago: The city is not a reliable partner and is not open for business,” the company said,

The announcement comes the same day the Biden administration released a screening tool to help identify disadvantaged communities that have long been plagued by environmental hazards — but said it won’t include race as a factor in deciding where to devote resources.

Administration officials said excluding race will make projects less likely to draw legal challenges and will be easier to defend, even as they acknowledged that minority areas often suffer disproportionate pollution impacts.