September 13, 2014

Illinois Green Groups Push to Stop Fracking With All Eyes on JCAR

I have a new blog up at Huffington Post about the latest on the Illinois fracking fight.
The universal response from environmental groups is that Illinois must ban fracking because these rules won't protect the public. Even groups who supported the regulatory law that's designed to open the state to large scale fracking are now pushing for a ban or moratorium.

September 9, 2014

Thoughts on protests, activism, the NYC climate march, and why big greens aren't stopping climate change

The trouble with letting television tell the story of our recent history is that it tends to overemphasize events designed for the camera. For example, the made-for-TV version of the civil rights struggle highlights a clip of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial as the turning point and defining moment of the movement.

While it was an important event, it was less visible organizing efforts across the country that did more to produce change, such as sit-ins, boycotts, protests, voter registration drives, electoral campaigning, and many other actions that disrupted local power structures.

I fear too many activists believe the TV version of how change happens. Much of the anti-Iraq war movement never learned this lesson. Or at least they didn't act as though they did. UFPJ set strategy for most of the movement by deciding they were going to maintain their 501c3 tax exempt status, which meant swearing off electoral politics and any aggressive civil disobedience tactics that might actually disrupt the process of waging war. Or in other words, the two types of action most likely to stop the war.

They got stuck doing one protest after another, some of which I attended and helped organize. Protest is useful but when a large majority of the public are already aware of the issue and agree with you then it's time to move beyond "raising awareness" mode and use other tools in your belt.

I wonder if the climate change movement is making the same mistake. There's no harm in having a big climate march in New York City, other than the event's carbon footprint. It may give a burst of motivation and camaraderie to the movement. Perhaps it will be noticed by world leaders. But is it going to get much more press coverage than the largely ignored 200,000+ people I rallied with in DC right before the Iraq War started? Will it have any more impact on the direction the world is headed, which is to say, none at all? Isn't it passed time to move beyond "raising awareness" tactics with climate change? And is the big green focus on this rally motivated by the fact that 501c3 tax exempt funds can be utilized?

Let's face it, at least half the reason there was so much focus on the Keystone XL pipeline is that 501c3 grant funds could be used since approving the pipeline is an administrative decision by the state department, as opposed to non-tax-exempt activity like lobbying Congress to pass a decent energy bill. That, plus somebody's desire to make Obama the main target because, goodness knows, the President is an all powerful figure who can make everything happen if we just convince him to. Now the oil industry has found other ways to move tar sands without Keystone XL and it turns out that Congress is an even bigger barrier to progress than Obama.

So have fun in NYC but if you expect a rally to be a singular moment that will change the world then you're going to be disappointed. What's going to stop climate change is hard work back home. Especially in extraction regions like downstate Illinois, which big greens have largely turned their backs on.

The first Liberty Brew & View movie screening I arranged was the fantastic documentary, Sir! No Sir! It told the story of resistance by American soldiers and draftees during the Vietnam War. By the end of the war, the military couldn't depend on whether a large portion of their soldiers would obey if ordered into battle. That's why there will never be a draft again. The war ended partly because resistance by soldiers took away the ability of American leaders to continue waging war.

The climate fight will be won the same way. We'll win by taking away the ability of the fossil fuel industry to continue destroying a habitable climate. We accomplish that by making it more expensive and more difficult to extract and burn fossil fuels.*

The movement made some progress on the burning side by stopping Dick Cheney's evil plan to build new coal power plants. We succeeded by driving up the cost and trouble of building new plants through a variety of legal maneuvers, delaying tactics, discouraging financing, and applying political pressure. Shutting down existing coal plants is more difficult, but increasing their costs with half a dozen new EPA rules plus local pressure is a viable strategy.

But on the other side of the process, there's very little investment by big greens and their major grant donors to help front line communities keep fossil fuels in the ground, as scientists have warned we must.

Instead, we've got situations like Illinois where a Democratic Governor is dramatically increasing coal mining and launching fracking. And the big green groups respond by kissing the Governor's ass and calling him a "climate champ" because they hope it will produce a better state Clean Power Plan. That strategy may eventually close some coal plants over a period of years if they aren't given more waivers, and probably to be replaced by natural gas. Meanwhile, Illinois will continue increasing coal mining for export to foreign nations, and fracking will increase carbon emissions as well.

Rallies and greenwashing politicians who make climate change worse will not solve the crisis. Focusing on a strategy that slowly closes down coal plants in America over many years, while coal for export and fracking increase, is not going to solve the crisis. We have to take away the ability of industry to continue the crisis by increasing the cost and difficulty of getting fossil fuels out of the ground.

We can do this with direct action that obstructs extraction activity, banning fracking, passing laws to increase the cost of mining coal, organizing opposition in impacted communities, electing our own candidates at the local and state level in extraction regions, and generally being a pain in the ass of the fossil fuel industry in any way that ups their cost of doing business.

Currently, none of those activities are a priority for the national green groups who have their regional offices in Chicago. Hell, southern Illinois is a six hour drive away and the grant-making foundations of rich white people think the Clean Power Plan and a timid legislative agenda pushing renewables is the way to go. If anything, they repeatedly undermined the efforts of those trying to stop fracking from coming to Illinois in favor of passing weak regulation that funders like Bloomberg prefer.

How much more expensive will it be to frack or mine coal the day after the New York climate rally? Not a damn penny.

Those of us in coal and fracking country are the ones who will have to solve the climate crisis. We have the most skin in the game. The battle lines are in rural areas, not New York City. And at least for now, we're going to have to do it on our own.

*Just so I'm not misconstrued or intentionally misrepresented, this blog post is not advocating violence to people or destruction of property.

August 28, 2014

Governor Quinn Has Baghdad Bob Moment During Fracking Protest

My new blog about the pressure on Pat Quinn to end his support for fracking is up at Huffington Post.

Pat Quinn had his own Baghdad Bob moment during the Illinois State Fair when a reporter asked if the Democratic base is behind his campaign. He awkwardlysmiled and claimed "we have everybody with us," while a protest in the background forced him to speak up as they shouted, "Governor Quinn come on down, anti-frackers are in town!"
Quinn's support for fracking continues to be a problem with environmental voters, particularly downstate, as it undermines his claim to "stand with the people, not the powerful."

While you're at it, check out this letter from the Illinois fracking movement sent to the Director of the Sierra Club asking them to show they're serious about stopping fracking. It's unacceptable for them to remain silent while industry uses Sierra Club's support for regulation to greenwash fracking and attack the movement.

August 27, 2014

Fracking Industry Uses Tobacco Playbook to Defend Birth Defects

Bloomberg News reviews studies on the link between birth defects and living near fracking sites. It's compelling. Multiple studies show increased rates of congenital heart defects, low birth weight, and stillbirths.

A spokesperson for the fracking industry propaganda outfit, Energy in Depth, responded.
“The body of scientific knowledge has to advance gradually and you have to look at all of these things and the full spectrum. You can’t just look at this one individual or this group of studies.”
How many studies do we need? How long will it take?
"We also believe that until scientific research can establish what actually causes the diseases with which smoking has been statistically associated, it would be unfair to advocate any law prohibiting the sale of cigarettes"
That's what the tobacco industry was still arguing in 1987, many years after the link between cigarettes and multiple deadly health problems was clear.

To use another example, the fossil fuel industry continues to cast doubt on the scientific evidence behind climate change almost three decades after James Hansen first testified on the problem to Congress. There will never be enough conclusive evidence for those who profit from human suffering.

This is the fundamental flaw with how we regulate public health and safety in the United States. Some nations use the precautionary principle that puts burden on polluters to show they can operate without harming the public. In the United States we use that approach for prescription medication but not with polluting industries.

Several studies focus on the impacts of air emissions from fracking sites. Clearly, they aren't well regulated at the federal level. In Illinois, the fracking law doesn't address air emissions from well sites. Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature have decided that Illinoisans should be forced to participate in a potentially deadly science experiment while we wait for conclusive proof that people living nearby are harmed.

If you want to understand how environmental justice principles apply to low-income, rural extraction regions, this is a good example. The Illinois fracking law was negotiated in closed door sessions between industry lobbyists and representatives of a few environmental groups headquartered in Chicago, hundreds of miles away from any expected well sites. They got a seat at the table by showing they're willing to compromise over the objection of environmentalists in impacted areas.

The big green group staffers who negotiated the fatally flawed Illinois fracking law won't have to live anywhere near air emissions from wells. But some of us will. That's why the movement to stop fracking in Illinois continues to push on.

August 7, 2014

Who Are the Top Five Fossil Fools in Illinois Politics?

I have a new blog up at Huffington Post.

Illinois may be more famous for imprisoned governors, but as a coal state struggling with its energy future, some of our politicians have wacky things to say about fossil fuels. With the threatened start of fracking plus backlash to EPA proposing new rules on carbon emissions, you can expect more foolishness to come.

Since election season is upon us, it's a good time to review the top five politicians whose uninformed and outrageous statements make them the biggest fossil fools in Illinois this year (so far).

Find out who's on the list.

It's also posted at Democrats for Progress and DailyKos.

July 27, 2014

The Southern Illinoisan Gives Up On Journalism, Bends Over For Oil & Gas Industry

The Southern Illinoisan has a long running competition with the Belleville News-Democrat over which Illinois newspaper has the strongest bias in favor of the coal industry. So I was pleasantly surprised last year when I saw the Southern Illinoisan doing good reporting on the fracking issue, even giving frequent voice to the opposition. That changed.

A recent article in the Southern is so ridiculous, so over the top misleading, it looks like they've given up on doing real journalism about fracking.

Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) sent out a press release last week full of facts and figures on worker safety problems in the fracking industry. Illinois' weak fracking law doesn't address the problem. The Southern fist responded with an article that gives more space to defensive responses from industry supporters than it does to citing facts and studies. That showed bias, but you won't believe what they published next!

The Southern ran an article titled "Fracking workers: It's safe, it's good" with anecdotal stories from two workers in the industry who have witnessed non-fatal accidents at fracking sites in North Dakota. There was no mention of the fact that North Dakota now has the highest rate of deadly workplace accidents, thanks largely to the fracking industry.

The article is no different than running anecdotal stories about two heavy smokers who lived past age 90 and failing to mention studies linking cigarettes to cancer. If it didn't hurt those two it must be safe, right? It's not journalism. It's propaganda.

Maybe tomorrow the Southern will feature an article about two people who haven't been in deadly traffic accidents, so clearly all roads must be perfectly safe! Don't worry about those pesky rumors and studies on how many people die in auto accidents each year.

The Southern published good coverage of issues related to fracking for a while. I've watched as their bias has grown more obvious. When hundreds of people attended the two southern Illinois public hearings on fracking, they scrubbed any mention of the repeated calls by multiple members of the public for non-violent civil disobedience to stop the industry. When Josh Fox spoke to a crowd of over 600 locals, they did no follow up story at all.

The paper has good reporters clearly capable of doing honest journalism. I hope their professional reputations aren't irreparably damaged by the embarrassing decisions of their editors.

People were shocked earlier this year when two southern Illinois newspapers announced they were banning letters, articles, and even paid advertisements opposed to fracking. They instituted the blackout just weeks before the public voted on a local referendum to ban fracking. In a way, I have to respect the honesty of those papers admitting to their decision. It's almost better than the Southern's attempt to maintain the facade of an honest news organization while giving people an inaccurate picture of fossil fuel news.

The oil & gas industry have a problem. The more people learn about fracking, the more opposition grows. Too much accurate reporting resulted in a powerful anti-fracking movement. Industry already have politicians like Brandon Phelps singing their song after hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions. Now they're targeting southern Illinois news outlets that print too many pesky facts.

A free press is essential to democracy. The oil & gas industry are attempting to rig the public debate in favor of a law that was negotiated by lobbyists behind closed doors and rushed through the legislature with less than an hour of public debate. Some legislators openly admitted knowing very little about the issue before casting their vote. This isn't just an attack on the environment. It's an attack on informed, democratic decision making.

July 8, 2014

Oil Interests Want Illinois To Frack for the Children

In what may be the most shameless in a long line of dishonest appeals, the Illinois oil industry is now asking us to start fracking for the children.

The oil industry propaganda website, Energy In Depth (or Energy in Deception as it's often called), is blaming Illinois' school funding problem on the state's failure to start fracking. They claim additional revenue from fracking is just what school kids need.

It's part of their campaign pressuring the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to rush weak fracking rules. Extraction industries have grown used to IDNR being subservient to their interests, so like a spoiled Veruca Salt, they can't stand not getting everything they want right away.

There are plenty of ways to resolve Illinois' school funding disparity problem and most of them don't involve exposing children to carcinogens.

Fracking chemicals have been linked to infertility, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and more. A Colorado study found both minor and severe health impacts from air emissions for those living near wells. A family in Texas successfully sued over a air pollution from gas and oil operations near their ranch.

The inadequate Illinois law does not address the effects of air emissions on those who live near wells.

Fracking is a good idea if you want kids to get nose bleeds, itchy eyes and asthma attacks on the way to school. Maybe the additional funding can be used to hire a school nurse.

This reminds me of my favorite talking point used by industry lobbyists. They like claiming fracking is safe because it includes chemicals you might find under your kitchen sink. Referencing your home kitchen sounds so warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

But there's a reason people child-proof that cabinet under the kitchen sink. It's so toddlers won't get into the bleach and Drano. What they're really telling us is that fracking involves chemicals that can kill you.

Illinois won't be doing school children any favors by exposing them to a toxic brew of fracking chemicals in the air, soil, and water.

One last point. Energy in Deception continues to paint the opposition to fracking as a "small fringe." Back in the real world, over 400 people attended the public hearing in Decatur, an industrial town with a reputation for having little interest in environmental activism. I'm not aware of any other environmental issue attracting that kind of crowd in central Illinois. In fact, I've only seen a few issues on any topic motivate this level of passion from average citizens. The same is true for the hundreds of people who attended two southern Illinois hearings and over 600 who heard Josh Fox speak.

This level of participation in an environmental rule making process is completely unprecedented for downstate Illinois. The oil industry (and CapitolFax) can keep claiming "fringe" until their typing fingers are raw. It's still a heaping pile of bullshit.

June 6, 2014

Debunking Illinois oil & gas fracking talking points

I was glad to see how much attention my last piece at EcoWatch and HuffingtonPost received, even if some of it was negative.

CapitolFax engaged in the tsk tsk finger wagging the statehouse old guard always do against any group that gets too aggressive with actions. A Forbes blogger didn't care for my use of the Hunger Games to explain what people mean when they talk about southern Illinois being an extraction sacrifice zone. CapitolFax also called that "over the top."

The comparison obviously struck a chord, but neither writer offered any argument as to why I'm wrong. I suspect the concept of how extraction-based economies breed poverty is too far outside the usual talking points about coal, oil and gas creating jobs. But it's pretty simple. No region that bases its economy on coal mining has ever had lasting prosperity. West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southern Illinois have all remained poor for a reason.

But, getting to the title of this blog post, I responded in an Illinois Times article to some arguments pro-fracking lobbyists have been using lately.
Denzler called Illinois’ proposed regulations the “strongest environmental regulations in the country.”
Reynolds is not impressed.
“Claiming to have the toughest fracking law is like being the fastest turtle,” he said. “It doesn’t mean much given the competition. No one has shown that regulation can make fracking safe.”
Unfortunately, the four green groups who supported the regulatory law, which helps companies finance large scale fracking operations in Illinois, are repeating the same talking points about how tough it is. So far, I have yet to see any of those organizations publicly correct the politicians and industry lobbyists who use big green support for the law to greenwash fracking and marginalize the fracktivist movement enviro groups claim to represent.

This has been a problem in southern Illinois, where politicians claim Sierra Club support for the law means regulation will protect the environment, and in the legislature, where attempts to fix the fracking law were contradicted and undermined this year by four groups bragging about how strong it is. Defending their decision to back a weak law and their respectability with the statehouse establishment appear to be bigger priorities for pro-fracking greens.

May 1, 2014

How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?

My latest Huffington Post blog covers the latest actions against fracking and a loophole oil frackers plan to exploit to avoid most regulation.

It's also at Democrats for Progress and DailyKos. And the "For Sale" picture is on tumblr.

Opposition continues as people learn more about the inadequacy of a law that was written behind closed doors and rushed through the legislature with very little public scrutiny. A recent day of action saw citizens in Chicago and southern Illinois bring accountability to those responsible for the dangerously weak fracking law.

"For sale" signs were placed at the campaign office of state representative Mike Bost, who co-sponsored the law while claiming it would "keep our air clean, protect our water supply and maintain our environment." In fact, the law contains no provisions to limit toxic air emissions that harm the health of those living nearby.

April 4, 2014

Fight Fracking Fundraiser in Springfield

Join a fundraising event to fight fracking in Illinois

Featuring music by Sarah Schneider!

Plus a mini-fest of short films including: This Land is Our Land, on the southern Illinois fracktivist movement by Sarah Shelton. Fracking in the Land of Lincoln and Judy's Rock by Mitch Wenkus. All shown on the big screen in the Capital City Bar & Grill movie room.

Tuesday, April 8, 7-9pm
Capital City Bar & Grill Movie Room
3149 S. Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield, IL

This will also be my farewell to Springfield party since I'm moving to southern Illinois to fight fracking and promote a just energy transition. If you like the work I'm doing, or have done in the past (or would just like to see me get out of town) this would be the time to show your appreciation! Funds will support efforts to organize on fracking, environmental justice for Illinois extraction regions, and help launch an online & print journal covering the movement while exposing dirty polluters and their enabling politicians. 

Suggested donation: $30 per person or $50/couple. 
Or $5 for low-budget activists. I would like everyone to come even if you don't make a big donation.
Plus silent auction.

"In the throes of a coal mining rush and impending fracking disaster, downstate Illinois needs deeply rooted community organizers, investigative reporters and voices of clarity like Will Reynolds. We've reached a turning point in the heartland. With your support, and Will's long-time experience, citizens groups and environmental organizations will be able to grow the movement for a sustainable future." - Jeff Biggers

"This is a critical time for the health and land of Southern Illinois. We are under an onslaught from the coal industry, under the imminent threat of fracking, and preparing to once again fight logging on the Shawnee National Forest. There is considerable energy among the residents of the region and within our grassroots environmental groups. My work with Will Reynolds makes me believe that he will be a crucial force for channeling that energy to stop these extractive industries." - Sam Stearns