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Henry Henderson, Director, Midwest Program NRDC, Chicago, Illinois

Henry Henderson

I was born in Granite City, Illinois, a steel town where the coke plant sits on property once farmed by my Great-Great Grandfather. Other family members came to work in the steel mill, drawn both by the jobs as a way out of mining coal, and by the strong union culture of the community. Nonetheless, the jobs were hard and the environment polluted. Now, most of those jobs are gone, but the legacy of pollution remains.  I think the experience of growing up in that community has been the basis for my interest in law and the environment: providing a focus and training to address public policies, institutions and priorities that affect the health, safety and sustainability of people and their communities.

Prior to joining NRDC, I served as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois, the founding Commissioner of Environment for the City of Chicago, and as a principal in an environmental and public policy consulting firm. I have also taught environmental law and policy at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Recent Posts

Chicago Petcoke: Alderman's shameful switcheroo undercuts his neighbors, the Mayor and the entire City

Posted April 2, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution

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Yesterday, a hearing on Chicago’s proposed ordinance to ban new and expanded petroleum coke operations gave us a good example of why this town often deserves its international reputation for political shenanigans. The City Council's Zoning Committee had set...continued

BP's Lake Michigan Oil Spill: More mess and less transparency from the refinery Chicagoans love to hate

Posted March 26, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil

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Ask any Chicagoan and they’ll tell you that Lake Michigan is a big part of what makes this town great. So, perhaps this is what makes BP’s nearby refinery in Whiting, IN so reviled. The week of the Exxon...continued

Mayor Emanuel Says Petcoke Is Not OK (Corral)

Posted February 14, 2014 by Henry Henderson

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There have been strong words said here in Illinois in recent weeks related to the mountains of oil refining waste blighting the Southeast Side of Chicago of late. Despite the intense rhetoric, so far neighbors living near the sites...continued

Cut the Carp Crap: Invasive Species Attack Is an Opportunity for Chicago

Posted February 4, 2014 by Henry Henderson

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In January, the Army Corps of Engineers released their long-awaited, Congressionally-mandated study outlining scenarios to rebuff the most infamous invasive species Chicago has ever seen. The Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study outlines a series of scenarios for...continued

Petcoke Blight Tells Bigger Story About Chicago's Waterways

Posted January 9, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Moving Beyond Oil

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There has been a hopeful outcry over the mounds of oil-refining waste blighting homes near the Calumet River on Chicago's Southeast Side. The piles of petcoke have received public denunciation in strongly worded editorials from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times; Illinois'...continued

Petcoke Piles: We should all stand up for Chicago's Southeast Side

Posted October 21, 2013 by Henry Henderson

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As Commissioner for the Environment for the City of Chicago back in the 90’s, I spent a lot of time dealing with issues on the Southeast Side. It is a mix of highly diverse neighborhoods surrounded by areas thick...continued

Petcoke Piles on the Calumet: Chicago's newest tar sands blight

Posted October 15, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil

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BP’s other very messy shoe is dropping now. With the expansion of their Whiting Refinery into one of the biggest tar sands processors on the planet, the increases in toxins dumped into the waters of Lake Michigan and airshed...continued

Chicago's Investment in Cleaner, Greener Water

Posted October 7, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably

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Climate change is bringing major changes to our cities right now. Those impacts have been readily visible in Chicago where low levels in Lake Michigan and massive, violent rain storms have twice been complicit in the reversal (or re-reversal)...continued

Illinois Fracking Update

Posted May 20, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution

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The fracking debate is heating up in Illinois—as it needs to since it is becoming abundantly clear that fracking may have begun in this state. With almost no laws in place to protect the public from the known—and very scary—dangers...continued

Illinois Fracking Debate: Silence Before the Storm in Springfield

Posted April 17, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution

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Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 There has been a peculiar silence out of Springfield as it relates to fracking. And that is a problem. As I’ve noted previously, there are virtually no laws governing hydraulic...continued

Goldman Prize: Kimberly Wasserman Nieto is a truly deserving winner

Posted April 17, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Environmental Justice

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Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 The annual Goldman Prize is an exceptionally important honor, celebrating the extraordinary commitment of grassroots environmental leaders who stand for the integrity and dignity of citizens and communities. The annual...continued

City Hall Continues Investing to Give Chicago the River it Deserves

Posted April 2, 2013 by Henry Henderson

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Change comes slow. Especially when it runs headlong into 150 years of history. That is certainly the case with the Chicago River, a waterway long maligned and mistreated at the heart of this city. While many have long embraced...continued

Fracking vs. Democracy: State laws subvert home rule and property rights

Posted March 24, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution

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One of the most fascinating and disturbing issues that comes up again and again around fracking is the multitude of exemptions and entitlements that have been handed to the industry at the expense of citizens. Exemptions from the federal drinking...continued

Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative: The Skyline That Makes Our City Beautiful Also Makes it Great

Posted March 6, 2013 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming

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"Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world."  Frank Lloyd Wright Unquestionably, Chicago’s skyline is among the most beautiful in the world. But its beauty is only part of what makes any...continued

Illinois Legislators Should Heed These Voices on Fracking

Posted March 1, 2013 by Henry Henderson

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Last week a fracking bill came out of the Illinois General Assembly that got a lot of attention. This week I got a look at a video that reminds me why it was so important for so many people and...continued

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