The Clean Air Act of 1990 (as amended) designated the Chicago metropolitan area as one of only two “severe non-attainment zones” in the United States. (Los Angeles was an “extreme” area — the only one worse than Chicago’s status). The most significant implication of this federal legislation for Chicago-area employers was the requirement that they decrease the number of employees commuting alone to their workplaces or pay significant fines.
The idea of mandated trip reductions in northern Illinois, with the burden of performance placed on the area’s employers, became an issue of great significance when the State of Illinois was required to implement the Clean Air Act of 1990 by passage of a state statute in the early 1990’s. As the implications became clear to employers in the area, concern grew. However, the State of Illinois was threatened with loss of federal funding for non-compliance with the new law. The estimated cost to employers in northern Illinois was in excess of $500 million.
I was engaged by a group of employers in northern Illinois to ensure that Illinois compliance was reasonable, yet rational. Efforts were intitated under the banner of a Transportation Management Association (TMA), designed to assist area employers in an organized and successful program to implement clean air actions without unrealistic and inappropriate responsibility. Cooperative efforts were undertaken with members such as those of the local Chambers of Commerce, the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, the DuPage Development Commission, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the City of Chicago, and organized labor statewide, all under TMA leadership.
Investigation of the federal premise for the employer trip requirements revealed interesting questions. Chicago was designated a non-attainment zone and, as such, subject to Clean Air Act requirements by virtue of two readings from two monitors located in southern Wisconsin. Placement of both of the monitors was suspect due to existing environmental conditions not subject to vehicular ozone implications. The TMA was able to successfully convince the Illinois General Assembly of the fallacy of this approach and generate support for some modifications to the Illinois law proposed by environmental activists.
Additionally, it became obvious that the success of any change in commuter behavior would be directly related to the availability of public transportation or carpool feasibility. While the central City, as well as business areas, might be successful in this endeavor, employers located in more remote areas could not realistically expect public transportation or employee residential clusters to assist in bringing fewer vehicles to their locations. As a result, a key element of Illinois’ implementation would have to be the acknowledgement the difference in character of these businesses, resulting in two zones for purposes of compliance.
That established, the TMA became part of a joint legislative development group, along with environmentalists and legislators, trying to bring air quality improvement to the area without driving employers to other states. On January 12, 1993, the 87th Illinois General Assembly passed House Amendment #3 to Senate Bill 2177, the Employee Commute Options Act. The legislation effectively implemented the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act without sacrificing jobs in the state.
Workshops were conducted to assist employers in complying with legislation and a nationally recognized “Cash for Clunkers” program removed over 8,000 pre-1971 vehicles from operating on Illinois roadways. (These are the worst air quality offenders.) High Occupancy Vehicle lanes were initiated and voluntary carpool programs were established within employer locations and employer clusters. Probably most importantly, a 20-member board was established to assist the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency reduce vehicle contributions to ozone conditions in northern Illinois.
Air quality in northern Illinois is improved and now within national standards for compliance. Over the past ten years, there have only been two years in which the area has measured any noncompliance. And the area continues to grow and prosper with relocation of new employers and job growth.