As heating affordability crisis, children’s health concerns, and climate change escalate, urgency grows to pass healthy buildings ordinance for new construction in Chicago
Chicago, IL – Amid staggeringly high gas bills and a record-breaking rate-hike request from Peoples Gas, a group of consumer, health and environmental advocates urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago City Council to pass a cost-saving, healthy-buildings ordinance requiring emissions standards for newly constructed buildings. The ordinance would ensure new buildings in Chicago are built to be fossil-free with efficient appliances that lead to improved indoor air quality and energy bill savings for future homeowners and tenants.
At a news conference outside City Council chambers Wednesday, members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) spoke of the urgency of passing a local “Clean Buildings, Clean Air” ordinance that would set emissions standards for new construction projects, similar to laws passed in other major cities, including Boston, New York City and Los Angeles. In Chicago, where the burning of gas accounts for nearly two-thirds of carbon emissions, the ordinance would be a key component to an overall plan for equitably transitioning to cheaper and cleaner ways to heat and power buildings.
Chicago residents can send a message to their City Council representatives in favor of the ordinance.
“Chicago is in a heating-affordability crisis because gas prices have hurtled out of control – and that was before Peoples Gas proposed another staggering rate hike this month,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), a nonprofit consumer watchdog group. “But the good news is that we can adopt construction standards that move away from dirty, expensive gas, curb heating bills in the long-run, and protect our health and the environment.”
Last year, Chicago announced its transition to 100% renewable energy for government buildings by 2025, making it one of the largest city governments in the country to commit to reducing its carbon footprint. Then in October 2022, the City-created Chicago Building Decarbonization Working Group (CBDWG) released a report on how Chicago could transition to cleaner buildings in a way that benefitted and protected the bottom lines of all consumers, including those in environmental justice communities. The working group recommended drastically cutting fossil fuel use and improving energy efficiency in new construction projects.
One of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions would be through building electrification—replacing gas equipment such as furnaces and stoves with cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient electric counterparts, including heat pumps and induction stovetops.
“Chicago must move away from dangerous, expensive and outdated methods of heating our homes, and we must not leave behind communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution,” said Pastor Scott Onqué, policy director of Faith in Place, a faith-based environmental justice nonprofit. “We have a real opportunity to improve community health, create more equitable clean energy jobs, make bills more affordable and fight our shared climate crisis.”
“The cost of natural gas is too high. It’s not just our bank accounts that are suffering, but it’s also our health. Neighborhoods like mine already face disproportionate health impacts due to a long legacy of environmental racism in Chicago,” said Adella Bass, lead health equity organizer for People for Community Recovery, an environmental justice nonprofit based in Altgeld Gardens. “Moving away from natural gas in buildings is a step in the right direction as it will bring jobs, health benefits and more affordable bills. We are committed to working with the City to ensure the transition happens equitably and prioritizes benefits for my neighborhood and other environmental justice communities.”
The ICJC asks Chicagoans to reach out to their City Council representatives immediately to urge them to support a “Clean Buildings, Clean Air Ordinance” this term.