Chicago's well-honed reputation as one of America's greenest cities took another hit on Sunday with a Tribune examination that found the Daley administration's rhetoric far exceeds the reality when it comes to environmental initiatives that have won wide praise but received little scrutiny.
Those areas include air quality, river cleanliness, phosphates and even taxi efficiency.
Hawthorne focuses his report, though, on carbon credits that have left taxpayers "on the hook."
"Mayor Richard Daley promised long ago that his administration would start fighting global warming by buying 20 percent of its electricity from wind farms and other sources of green energy.
"But more than two years after the deadline he set, the city continues to get nearly all of its power from coal, natural gas and nuclear plants, according to records obtained by the Tribune," Hawthorne found.
"Daley administration officials contend they have kept the mayor's promise by buying carbon credits, a controversial way of offsetting pollution by paying money to producers of green energy. The credits are supposed to lower the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere. But most of the credits Chicago has bought over the last two years didn't reduce carbon emissions at all, energy experts and the city's own broker on the deal said.
"As a result, taxpayers paid the full bill for the city's normal electricity usage, then the city paid again - more than half a million dollars in all - for credits with questionable environmental benefits."
Hawthorne's reporting recalls the work also done by Mick Dumke of the Reader.
"The city’s actual performance on environmental issues - confronting climate change, industrial pollution, and municipal waste, for starters - is somewhat mixed," Dumke reported last year.
And three years ago, while Daley's record as a greenie was being hailed worldwide, Dumke's closer look resulted in the story "Greenish," which said " Is Daley the environmentalist of the decade? We'll see."
Meanwhile, Loyola University professor Harold Platt, author of Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago, calls the city's green campaign a "total public relations fraud." (via Newstips)
That might be a little strong; maybe "fraudish." But the bloom may be off the green rose.