Environmental Justice Implementation in Illinois

December 5, 2022

SCS Engineers air permitting



Illinois EPA Environmental Justice Procedures

The Illinois EPA Bureau of Air recently implemented more stringent procedures for securing an air permit for a new emissions source or emissions unit when the operations are located in, or within a mile of, an Environmental Justice area. How long the new procedures will remain in effect is not known, but any increase in air emissions will subject the project to more extensive review by the Illinois EPA and possibly the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region V, which could extend the permit application review by a substantial amount of time. Depending on the location of the source, the type and amount of the pollutant(s) being emitted, and the amount of interest or objection by interested parties, there is also a chance that the permit may not be approved. Interested parties include, but are not limited to, local activists, local government agencies, neighboring citizens, and other entities with an interest in Environmental Justice (EJ).

Assuming a permit with a net increase in emissions is approved, it will likely include the following elements.

  • Additional and more frequent emissions unit monitoring requirements.
  • Add-on air pollution control devices may have more frequent rounds of stack testing requirements.
  • Air dispersion modeling may be necessary to demonstrate that the local community is not exposed to toxic or hazardous constituents or other pollutants above established regulatory “fenceline” thresholds.

Illinois EPA is recommending that a company seeking to construct and operate a new or modified source, or add a new emissions unit to an existing source, identify ways within the plant to lower air emissions of the applicable air contaminant(s) such that the project will not result in a net emissions increase. Illinois EPA is not expecting a source to conduct a formal netting exercise, but instead suggests considering product substitutions such as alternative cleaning solutions with low or no volatile organic material (VOM) or hazardous air pollutants (HAPs); for instance, a mixture of acetone and water, or detergents. Other approaches may include the installation of add-on pollution control equipment, use of cleaning solutions with low vapor pressures which evaporate more slowly, capturing some of the VOM in shop towels and cleaning rags rather than emitting them to the atmosphere, installation of recovery equipment (e.g., distillation equipment), and considering other raw material substitutions or equipment replacements.

When an air permit application is submitted to the Illinois EPA for a proposed project that does not result in a net emissions increase, the application will be processed by the permitting department, and then a draft permit will be forwarded to the EJ group at Illinois EPA. The EJ group will forward a copy of the draft permit to interested parties specific to that EJ area. If no comments are received within two weeks, the permitting group will issue a draft permit to the permittee for review and comments. Any substantive comments received from interested parties will be addressed by the Illinois EPA, and this process could cause delays, particularly if a public hearing is requested and granted.


Environmental Justice Background

The USEPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmental justice was originally established by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance (states, grantees, etc.) from discriminating against these populations in any program or activity. The scope of Title VI was expanded by Executive Order 12898 by President Clinton on February 11, 1994. Executive Order 12898 was issued to direct federal agencies to incorporate achieving EJ into their mission, and to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionally high adverse human health and environmental effects of their programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations. More recently, President Biden issued Executive Order 14008 Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad on January 27, 2021.

  • Executive Order 14008 formalizes President Biden’s commitment to make EJ a part of the mission of every agency by directing federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities. In addition, the Order established a White House EJ Interagency Council and a White House EJ Advisory Council.
  • The order creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an EJ Scorecard.
  • The order initiates the development of a Climate and EJ Screening Tool, building off USEPA’s EJSCREEN, to identify disadvantaged communities, support the Justice40 Initiative, and inform equitable decision making across the federal government.

Illinois EPA has adopted policies and procedures to conform to Title VI of the Act and Executive Orders 12898 and 14008. According to Illinois EPA, “environmental justice is the protection of the health of the people of Illinois and its environment, equity in the administration of the State’s environmental programs, and the provision of adequate opportunities for meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

EJ areas in Illinois are derived from US Census Block Groups where the population consists of a substantial amount of minorities and/or the area is heavily populated by persons and families living below the poverty line. Further information on how EJ areas are established can be found at Illinois EPA EJ Start (arcgis.com), which also includes a map identifying all EJ areas in the state.


Ann OBrienAbout the Author: Ann O’Brien is a Project Manager at SCS Engineers with 33 years of experience in the printing industry. She assists companies with air, water, and waste management; EPCRA; environmental compliance audits; and Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.

For more information or assistance with identifying ways to lower air emissions or help with maneuvering through the air permitting process at Illinois EPA, contact Ann O’Brien () in Chicago, IL, or Cheryl Moran () in Milwaukee, WI.  For assitance in other states please contact





Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am