CHICAGO — The Cook County Department of Environmental Control announced on April 12 that it will change its name to the Department of Environment and Sustainability to reflect a slightly different focus and some new responsibilities. The agency name change goes into effect Dec. 1, 2017.
The department, which covers suburban Cook County, has expanded under President Toni Preckwinkle from primarily regulating air pollution to regulating and monitoring land pollution and implementing energy-efficient, “green” programs. Shortly after she took office in December 2010, Preckwinkle pledged to make so-called sustainability practices a priority.
Within the last five years, the agency has added to its list of responsibilities new regulatory functions related to land pollution, including regulation of landfills, transfer stations and recycling facilities. The department also added provisions to increase reporting on hazardous chemicals and to increase recycling and reuse of building materials from demolitions and major renovations.
In addition, new sustainability programs include solar energy and brownfield redevelopment.
“The name change was prompted to recognize our broader role in sustainability, not just in environmental regulation,” Deborah Stone, director of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control, told the Cook County Record. “It also reflects President Preckwinkle’s focus on improved services and benefits to residents.”
This includes fee reductions on some county ordinances, including a Gasoline Vapor Collection and Control fee, which will be reduced from $200 to $100 per year, as well as fees for organic composting facilities, which will be reduced from $1,000 to $500 per year. County fee reductions are effective immediately.
“The reduction in revenues, which is relatively small, is already factored into this year’s budget cost and revenue projections,” Stone said. “Therefore, no replacement is needed. The department’s functions are paid for either by fee revenue or external grants.”
Stone says that Cook County has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 22 percent in five years through energy efficiency and installation of renewable energy. This includes its shared community solar program that allows residents who cannot put solar panels on their own roof, such as renters, to plug into a solar power system installed at a nearby church or school.
“Our energy reductions have saved Cook County taxpayers more than $5 million over five years,” Stone said.
The department is currently assessing 40 sites for contamination for potential brownfield redevelopment. The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“It is a preliminary step to getting those sites cleaned up and back into productive economic use or community benefit,” Stone said. “We are also beginning to assess sites for the City of Blue Island and Riverdale. We plan to work closely with local communities, the Cook County Land Bank Development Authority and other entities to target sites that are ripe for redevelopment, but also for information about their potential contamination.”
Recently the agency’s own building was awarded LEED Gold status, the first Cook County government building to receive this environmental designation.