The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has a simple mission: to protect the region’s waterways from dangerous pollutants. Yet according to a blistering editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times, the District is leasing government-owned land to serial polluters like Olympic Oil, the company being sued by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for violating environmental regulations
The editorial condemns the entire operation, from the reclamation district’s managers to the oil company’s executives.
Just how bad is the pollution? In February, federal workers were observing an oil spill cleanup on land leased by Olympic Oil. That would have been bad enough, except the workers accidentally stumbled on something worse: 50,000 gallons of antifreeze spilled over eight acres. The unreported spill was the company’s fourth known spill in just nine years.
The reclamation district owns 10,000 acres of land along Chicago-area waterways, land it’s officially tasked with protecting from pollution. In reality, much of that land is leased to oil refineries, antifreeze manufacturers, and asphalt plants. These activities are vital to our regional economy; an estimated 94% of the 2.6 million miles of paved roads in the U.S. is covered in asphalt, for instance. But critics say Olympic Oil has been allowed to pollute Chicago waterways with impunity, and many local leaders say enough is enough.
Andy Shaw, the CEO of the Better Government Association, recently recommended hiring an official inspector with the authority to investigate the reclamation district’s management. And the Sun-Times editorial harshly criticized the oil company, which has an annual budget in excess of $1 billion, yet claims it can’t afford to pay for water cleaning projects. The editorial’s harshest scorn was reserved not for the tenants, but for the district and its administrators.
“[The] district pays nine part-time commissioners at least $70,000 a year, and it pays a number of staffers more than $200,000 a year…But in yet another indication of poor management, a spokesman for the district told Shaw that an ‘external auditor’ had decided that an inspector general ‘would not be recommended.’ Meanwhile, the district cleans water with one hand while leasing land to polluters with the other.”