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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

An Open Letter to Bruce Rauner: new clean energy policies = new clean energy jobs for Illinois

Posted November 13, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Bruce Rauner campaigned for Governor under the theme: Bring Back Illinois. He now has the chance to do just that. With this in mind, here is an open letter outlining some important actions in the energy arena he should take...continued

Honoring Our Gorgeous and Efficient Skyline: Retrofit Chicago Commercial Buildings Awards

Posted October 15, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution

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Tonight the Retrofit Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative is having its first awards ceremony, honoring one building and three building engineers who have contributed most in the early years of the program to unleash the power of energy efficiency across...continued

Protecting the Southeast Side and All of Chicago

Posted October 3, 2014 by Henry Henderson

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                    Long overdue credit was given last night. At their annual dinner, the Illinois Environmental Council rightly cast a bright spotlight on the work of the Southeast Environmental Task Force...continued

End the Algae Assault: Great Lakes Mayors Should Push for Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Protection Rule

Posted September 22, 2014 by Henry Henderson

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The nation was greeted last month with the distressing news that nearly a half-million Americans were robbed of access to drinking water by toxic algae blooms near Toledo. It is amazing, spooky and utterly unacceptable for the citizens of...continued

Toledo's Troubles: Vivid Example of Why We Need to Act on Climate and Clean Water

Posted August 4, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming

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The troubles in Toledo this weekend might seem the stuff of science fiction (as an aside, just listen to the stories running on Chicago Public Radio), but the truth is that a major American city, perched along the Great...continued

Nasty: Another Chicago River Re-Reversal Highlights Need for Climate Action

Posted July 1, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Last night massive violent storms rumbled through Chicago dumping billions of gallons of stormwater on the region. That water overwhelmed stormwater systems, which dumped the slurry of runoff, contaminated rainwater and sewage into the Chicago River and its associated...continued

Illinois Beaches: Learning lessons to clean the Fresh Coast

Posted June 30, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Living Sustainably

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A day at the beach is a situation when many people become painfully aware of being directly confronted by water pollution: sadly, it is due to discomforting results of interaction with contaminated water. Kids with tummy aches. Or parents...continued

EPA Carbon Standards and Iowa: Breezing Past Proposed Goals

Posted June 6, 2014 by Henry Henderson in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming

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This post is co-presented with NRDC MAP Energy Policy Fellow and native Iowan Katharine McCormick. The Des Moines Register’s editorial board applauded the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for proposing the first standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants....continued

Illinois Infrastructure: Getting Our Water Systems Up to Snuff Amidst the Climate Crush

Posted May 9, 2014 by Henry Henderson

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Water. In Illinois we have whipsawed back and forth between having too much of it and not enough in recent years. From a flooded and re-reversed Chicago River to the mighty Mississippi being reduced to levels so low it...continued

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

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