Just asking: Will alderman Ed Burke actually follow through on his latest environmental proposal?

Burke, the longest-serving alderman in the council, is widely assumed to have more clout than anyone else in city government except the mayor. 

Over the years he’s proposed a series of an impressive environmental reforms, from tightening restrictions [PDF] on the city’s two heavily polluting coal-fired power plants to limiting the use of dangerous dry-cleaning chemicals to banning plastic shopping bags.

But in most cases, he’s introduced them with modest fanfare, told reporters how important they are, and then stepped aside as they died in committee, usually without a hearing.

Burke’s spokesman, Donal Quinlan, says his boss is a realist who doesn’t push anything without a decent chance of passing.

The problem is that most of these proposals will never have a decent chance of passing because no other aldermen even know they exist. No other aldermen even know they exist because their chief sponsor doesn’t tell anyone about them unless they gain traction in the media. And he certainly doesn’t do any horse-trading or arm-twisting.

Last week he introduced his usual flurry of proposed ordinances and resolutions, including one that would require fast-food restaurants to display nutritional information about the items on their menus and another that calls on the council to hold hearings about sex offenders who live near day care centers. Both attracted a little bit of interest from the press and fellow aldermen.

Another seemed to fly by without anyone noticing: Burke revived a proposal he originally introduced in November 2006 that would require the city to recycle or find some other greenish way of disposing of its old computers, cell phones, compact florescent light bulbs, and other “e-waste.” 

The ordinance doesn’t tell city officials how to do it; it just demands that they “immediately develop and document a sustainable program” to recycle or safely get rid of its own “e-waste,” which often contains mercury and other toxins.

Burke said he didn’t really know if the city was already doing something with this junk. “If it is I’m not aware of it, and I don’t think it’s as developed as it should be,” he said. 

I called several officials with several city departments, but no one could give me a clearer explanation of what happens to this stuff than Burke did. Based on the little I did gather, it doesn’t sound like the city has a consistent policy in place–though these officials think it should.

Burke’s ordinance was jointly assigned to the committees on finance and economic, capital and technology development. The second of these is chaired by 39th Ward alderman Margaret Laurino; the first, of course, is chaired by Burke himself. If this measure doesn’t see the light of day, it’s not because Burke can’t convince the alderman leading the committee to call it for a hearing.