PEORIA -- Here's a report from Tracy Fox on what's taking place in environmental policy on fracking:
It’s a sad week for Illinois. Despite a valiant organizing effort by Illinois People’s Action (IPA) and its allies Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) and the Illinois Coalition for a Moratorium on Fracking (ICMF), a Senate shell bill with fracking regulations stuffed in as an amendment passed the House Executive Committee unanimously.
The shell bill, purportedly a change to an obscure Weights and Measures law, was co-sponsored by Illinois state Senator Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, and has already passed the Senate unanimously.
The May 20 premiere of Gasland Part II was amazing. The documentary is a long two-hour recap of what has happened across America since the original Gasland movie was released. It was so stuffed with details about harms to local communities, good science gone bad, evil industry tactics and the failures of democracy, it’s hard to summarize. A few key things struck me.
Almost every regulatory study I know of … from the EPA study in Colorado to the Dimmick PA water study to the air emissions analysis in Dallas … has been released with conclusions suggesting fracking is harmful and then re-evaluated following heavy industry pressure and reissued with a “no substantive conclusion” finding.
Promises to connect impacted villages to nearby municipal water supplies have been brushed aside. Individuals working to make the truth about fracking known, including Cornell engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea who challenged the stability of well casings and suggested fracking’s global warming footprint to be greater than coal and Josh Fox himself, have been defamed and harassed by the oil and gas industry.
Chilling recaps of insider conferences reveal an industry using tactics from military PSYOPS (psychological ops) to treat local communities in fracking’s path like insurgents in a war zone. Double speak by regulatory officials, governors and President Obama is called out.
The facts are interwoven with individual stories ranging from dirt poor backwoods multi-generation homesteads to the middle class mayor of Dish TX forced from his family home by the air pollution endangering his two sons to a wealthy Dallas suburbanite whose house is uninhabitable due to excessive methane levels.
In all of these cases, no justice was served at all. And, far too many of the other stories had no real ending because financial hardships forced landowners to settle with the oil and gas companies and sign gag orders.
The film ends with a look at what lies ahead and it’s frightening to contemplate. The second of eighteen liquefied natural gas terminals was recently given a green light by the Obama administration. It seems fracking won’t even bring us energy independence or lower prices … instead the gas will be shipped overseas … ensuring that record oil and gas company profits continue to flow away from the nexus of harm.
After the film, Gasland II director Josh Fox and Dr. Sandra Steingraber (PhD biologist, author, cancer survivor and founder of Americans Against Fracking) took questions from the audience.
There was a significant amount of frustration and anger about the coalition of Illinois green groups that are supporting the regulatory bill with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Illinois Sierra Club and the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC) taking most of the heat. There was lots of discussion about the need to build a large, broad-based citizen movement and heavy pressure to join in on the action in Springfield the next day.
The film will continue touring this summer and should air in late summer/early fall on HBO.
On May 21, the Executive Committee hearing on the regulatory bill was packed. The organizing call the night before worked and left most of the staffers and lobbyists scrambling for a place along the wall when the hearing started.
Rep. John Bradley, (D, Marion) who headed the committee that drafted the regulations, gave an impassioned account of the bill and its history. He claimed that protecting water was his first and foremost objective.
His speech was followed by supportive remarks from representatives of Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Governor Pat Quinn. Then Jenn Walling from the Illinois Environmental Council gave a conciliatory endorsement suggesting fracking was already happening and, even though none of the green groups supporting the regulatory bill wanted to see fracking move forward, it was essential to update the paltry regulations in place today.
Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturer’s (or Moneygrubbers as IPA calls it) Association talked about the broad coalition supporting the bill … environmentalists, labor, farmers, chamber of commerce, etc.
Next the opposition was given an opportunity. Sandra Steingraber spoke from her New York experiences and her scientific training asking for a moratorium so that the science can be settled.
She asked those who had come to the hearing to oppose the bill to stand and 80-100 people rose. She challenged the notion that fracking was already happening likening Jenn Walling’s remarks to a red scare suggesting that there was a drilling rig under every bed in Southern Illinois.
Dr. Steingraber closed with a plea that Illinois value itself more and say no to fracking.
Josh Fox spoke next and asked how many on the committee had actually visited a fracking site. I am pretty cynical, but even I was a bit taken aback that not one person on the committee raised a hand. He shared a number of human stories he had recorded in his journeys across America.
Carolyn Raffensperger, attorney and former head of the Illinois Environmental Council, also spoke, pointing out that without enforcement the regulations would mean nothing. She then cited a March 2013 conference where the Illinois Attorney General’s office lamented just this issue with regard to both IEPA and IDNR.
She, along with Dr. Bill Rau from IPA and Tabitha Tripp of SAFE, urged a moratorium due to the number of unknowns, the concerns about air and water supply and the lack of local community participation in the “closed door” meetings where the regulations were hammered out.
Each opposition speaker was given less and less time and finally things came to an end. The vote quickly proceeded with no questions of any witness and the bill was unanimously approved.
When Jen Walling first spoke, I disagreed with her but remembered that people of good conscience can disagree. Then as I watched her trade nudges and whispers with Rep. Bradley during the opposition testimony I felt a little less charitable.
The reality of the situation began to sink in.
Those closed door meetings included no doctors, no engineers, no public health professions and no local community representatives. Instead, the environment was represented by three attorneys (NRDC, IEC and Environmental Law & Policy Center) and a registered lobbyist/MBA (Faith in Place).
Sierra Club, an organization that misguidedly supports the regulations on similar grounds, was part of the endorsing coalition but not included in the actual closed door meetings.
There have been no public hearings, there has been no health study, no evaluation of IDNR/IEPA capacity to regulate, no guidebook created to help local communities manage the impact, etc. This is not democracy to me.
The after-the-fact press conference was well-attended and covered in the Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business and a few other places. Most papers just picked up the Trib story in part.
At the press conference the witnesses reiterated their remarks and Dr. Lora Chamberlain of ICMF began laying the groundwork for next steps … find a sponsor to introduce an unfriendly moratorium amendment on the house floor, find a sponsor for a senate shell bill to put a moratorium in play on the senate side, and appeal to Governor Quinn.
A portion of the group then went to Quinn’s office in the Capitol demanding a meeting and three people staged a sit in resulting in one arrest. These are pretty much last ditch efforts, but in my opinion all worth pursuing because even if they don’t proceed they may provide momentum to clean up the front end (property rights, forced pooling, etc.) and back end (injection well disposal) of the horrid fracking process.
Next, the fracking regulations will reportedly go before the full Illinois house. It seems the game’s been rigged but I’m hoping for a miracle, and signing off to send a few more faxes and make some phone calls.
-- Tracy Fox
My take: What do the Dems get out of this? Union support? Campaign contributions? Sad. Koehler used to be a friend of the environment. Now he's willing to sell it out for money? As for the Sierra Club and others, who knows what they expect to get. Guess they've joined the Obama/teachers union strategy to turn on their base and give in to the opposition without a fight. Good luck with that. (Not.) Or maybe they're hoping for a big contribution from the oil and gas industry and their allies in this fracking fight. Will they accept it? Finally, the lesson here is that democracy seems to be dead in Illinois, as polticians don't care if people don't want what they're pushing. They think we'll forget when the next election comes along. We wont.
-- Elaine Hopkins