Duda: Illinois politicians are choosing megacorporations over our ecosystem

Melissa Duda, Columnist


On March 9, bulldozers destroyed Bell Bowl Prairie. A high-quality remnant prairie in Rockford, Illinois, Bell Bowl contained one of the most undisturbed natural plant communities in the state. But now, that land has become an ordinary, dirt-dominated, vacuous construction landscape.

The Greater Rockford Airport Authority owns the land on which Bell Bowl Prairie once existed. Today, the Rockford airport is the fastest-growing cargo airport worldwide and is home to megacorporations like Amazon and United Parcel Service. In 2018, the airport announced an expansion plan to keep up with ever-increasing shipping demands, which would destroy Bell Bowl Prairie to make room for new roads, parking lots and warehouses. Passionate conservation advocates came together to fight back, to little avail.

Illinois, the so-called “prairie state,” has less than 0.01% of its original 21 million acres of prairie remaining. Despite the parochial notion in America that the Democratic Party cares about our ecosystems, our state politicians — who had the power to save Bell Bowl Prairie — allowed it to be destroyed in favor of megacorporations’ profits. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker should have worked harder to prevent the destruction of Bell Bowl Prairie. Environmental organizations put forth alternative plans to prevent losing Bell Bowl, like building new roads around Bell Bowl Prairie, but environmental organizations said he was unreceptive to their proposals. 

But Pritzker had been elected on a platform involving environmental consciousness. During his 2022 campaign, Pritzker voiced support for clean energy to fight against climate change and for a conservation initiative known as the “30 by 30 Act,” an act with the goal of conserving 30% of Illinois’ natural land and water by 2030.

The Illinois government enables companies like Amazon and UPS to expand by offering them generous tax subsidies. Amazon alone has received $731 million in tax subsidies from Illinois, allowing it to build more warehouses in the state.

Though this may generate jobs, Illinois residents should not be enthusiastic about supporting a megacorporation that has reported grueling working conditions. Those conditions include unrealistic productivity quotas leading to high injury rates, creating a culture of fear by surveilling workers with technology and terminating employees through a phone app instead of face-to-face conversations.

Despite this, Pritzker in recent years has shown favoritism to corporations like Amazon. For instance, when the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, collapsed after a tornado — killing six people — Pritzker did not blame the deaths on Amazon’s greedy decision to keep employees working during a weather emergency. Instead, he blamed the warehouse’s structure and did not mention Amazon throughout his media speeches after this tragic accident.  

All of this to say, it is obvious to me why Pritzker favored megacorporations like Amazon over Bell Bowl Prairie. It also does not help that other Illinois politicians, like Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, persuaded the U.S. Department of Transportation to allocate $5.8 million for the expansion of the airport. 

Though the prairie is now gone, Illinois voters should learn an important lesson from this: Do not count on Illinois politicians to choose our ecosystems over big business. A notion exists in American society that Democrats support environmentally friendly initiatives and Republicans do not — but make no mistake, politicians from both parties are susceptible to the money of megacorporations. After all, the state of Illinois will likely profit far more from an expanded cargo airport than from a remnant prairie. 

So keep Bell Bowl Prairie in mind when elections come around. Remember you are still choosing evil if you choose the lesser of two evils.

Melissa Duda is a Weinberg first-year graduate student. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.