The skyline of downtown Chicago and the Chicago River

Downtown Chicago and the Chicago River



The American Midwest is renowned for its agriculture and abundant sunlight and wind. But given its historic reliance on coal and prevalent role in the oil and gas industry, it is also ground zero for our national transition away from fossil-fired power and the battle to solve climate change. Embracing clean energy in the United States’ breadbasket brings significant public health, environmental, and economic benefits to the Midwest, an area encompassing Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Missouri.

NRDC is helping to bring this brighter future to life while also protecting drinking water in places like Flint, Michigan, and defending critical species and habitats, including the Great Lakes ecosystem. From our Chicago office, we tackle state, local, and regional issues through strong, productive collaborations with local entities, including labor and faith-based groups, environmental justice allies, farmers, businesses, and state agencies.

  • After suing the city of Flint and Michigan state officials for their role in the ongoing water crisis, NRDC worked with former governor Rick Snyder’s administration to adopt the most protective Lead and Copper Rule in the country. We continue to defend the rule—which mandates full lead service line replacement within 20 years—from attacks by regional water authorities.
  • Following our report on the widespread contamination of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Michigan’s water supplies, NRDC called on the state to create drinking water standards for five PFAS substances and establish a treatment technique.
  • NRDC is protecting pollinators from toxic neonic pesticides, which have caused bee and butterfly populations to plummet, and working to restore critical native wildflower habitat. In Minnesota, we’ve advocated for neonic-free wildlife management areas and helped pass legislation that compensates homeowners for converting their turf lawns to pollinator-friendly plantings. NRDC also advanced laws in Illinois and Missouri that encourage solar farm operators to plant pollinator habitat at their installations. We hope to repeat that success in Kansas and across the Midwest.
  • NRDC advocates for agricultural policies that improve water quality, address climate change, and regenerate soil health—helping farmers manage risk. For example, with our local partners, we’ve won passage of “good farmer” crop insurance reward programs in Iowa and Illinois, giving farmers who plant cover crops a $5-per-acre break on their crop insurance bills. Now, we’re working to bring similar programs to other Midwest states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • Experts from across NRDC provide scientific, technical, and legislative expertise to help the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in South Dakota protect their land and water from damage by Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Through the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge, NRDC is working with partners in the Chicago area to support inclusive, equitable, climate-wise, and healthy community development through training and technical assistance, capital, and a network for shared learning. With local groups, NRDC is reforming city land-use and environmental policies that harm low-income communities and communities of color.
  • NRDC has achieved bipartisan success in moving the Midwest toward a low-carbon economy featuring ambitious wind and solar goals, cost-effective energy efficiency programs, and a cleaner electric grid to power the region’s transportation, homes, and buildings. In Ohio we’re supporting utility-scale solar power and spurring the development of a clean energy workforce in the heart of coal country. We’re strategizing in Michigan to shift utility portfolios away from coal- and natural gas–fired power and toward renewables and long-term net-zero carbon goals. In Missouri we are supporting utility efforts to invest heavily in wind power. Collectively, wind and solar across the region are now delivering renewable energy to millions of homes and businesses.
  • NRDC helped push Illinois’s Clean Energy Jobs Act, which will accelerate renewable energy generation in the state to 45 percent by 2030, on a path to 100% renewables. The legislation includes programs ensuring that the benefits of clean energy and electrification are available to all people. Illinois is also leading the region in opening up the promise of solar power to communities that haven’t historically seen jobs and economic investment tied to renewable energy.
  • Through the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, NRDC advisers are working with Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Minneapolis–St. Paul to guide ambitious new projects that will reduce pollution from each city’s buildings and transportation sectors.

See Our Work in Other Regions

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Chicago has more lead service lines than any city in the country.

Urge Mayor Lightfoot to replace the city's 400,000+ lead service lines and protect residents!

Protect Chicago's residents from lead service lines!

Demand that Mayor Lightfoot speed up the replacement of these dangerous pipes.