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

March 27, 2014

An Environmental Justice Agenda from Illinois Coal & Fracking Fighters

My new HuffingtonPost piece features a new call to action on the Illinois fracking and coal extraction crisis. I wrote a bit about why we have to think about extraction in rural Illinois as an environmental justice issue.
There's an old political tradition in Illinois of politicians pandering to environmentalists in Chicago and to the coal industry downstate. Convicted ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich mastered the game by heavily subsidizing coal while keeping environmental groups pacified with new air quality laws, efficiency standards, and support for renewable energy. Subsidies to promote fossil fuels as an economic development tool keep rural Illinois focused on short-term, destructive jobs while most green job creation happens in the northern half of the state.
The old game is changing as people in coal and fracking regions are demanding better protections of their health, land, and water. 

I wrote more at HuffPo, but here's the full letter signed by 21 grassroots groups working on the front lines of the Illinois extraction crisis.

Illinois Must Act to Stop Extraction Crisis

Illinois is facing an unprecedented environmental, social and economic crisis. The anticipated launch of industrialized fracking combined with resurgence in coal mining present a double threat to the people, land, water, and long term economic health of southern and central Illinois.

Illinois coal mining has increased 70% in Illinois since 2010 thanks to an increase in coal exports, widespread use of scrubbers to accommodate high sulfur coal, and the reduction of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that Illinois' weak fracking law will not adequately protect the public. Leading climate scientists have warned we must leave much of the world's remaining fossil fuel resources in the ground to avoid additional catastrophic consequences of climate change, such as record drought and flooding. The acceleration of fossil fuel extraction in Illinois exacerbates both a local and global crisis. State government must act:

Ban Fracking
Southern and central Illinois must not become a sacrifice zone to a dirty energy policy that will contribute significantly to climate change. Volume limits and other loop-holes will result in an unknown number of wells being exempt from regulation. Even if every provision of the current fracking law is enforced, people and the environment will not be adequately protected. Fracking must be banned.

Create a New Energy Economy in Coal Country
Coal country needs a bailout. Most clean energy jobs are being created in the northern half of Illinois, leaving the rest of the state behind. Downstate deserves more than dangerous, temporary fracking jobs, and empty promises about reviving the coal industry. Establish a coalfields regeneration fund to build a new energy economy targeted to areas left in poverty by boom and bust extraction cycles. We want a future with clean energy jobs like those being created in Iowa and California; not a future as an impoverished sacrifice zone like West Virginia or Wyoming coalfields.

Overhaul Regulatory Agencies
Years of lax enforcement, waived penalties, few inspectors, and recent staff scandals have undermined confidence that the Department of Natural Resources or Illinois EPA can effectively regulate mining and industrialized fracking. Additional funding to hire new staff will not change the institutional culture of agencies that have been unwilling to adequately protect public health. DNR and IEPA must be dramatically reformed or responsibility handed over to federal oversight.

End Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Coal Export Expansion
A report by Downstream Strategies found that the the coal industry costs the Illinois state budget roughly $20 million annually. Illinois must stop subsidizing a devastating industry that will never again provide the jobs it once did. Everyone loses when Illinois promotes coal exports to foreign nations with weak pollution laws. People in developing countries will suffer increased rates of lung disease, heart disease, birth defects, and other health impacts. Illinois suffers the consequences of poorly regulated coal mining. The global community will suffer the impact of climate change. Illinois must end its policy of subsidizing coal through state grants and expanding export infrastructure.

Signed: Buckminster Fuller Future Organization, Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Citizens Act to Protect Our Water (CAPOW!), Eco-Justice Collaborative, Friends of Bell Smith Springs, Gaia House Interfaith Center, Heartwood Forest Alliance, Indiana Forest Alliance, Justice for Rocky Branch, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Nuclear Energy Information Service, S.E.N.S.E. (SIUC Students), Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists (RACE), Rising Tide Chicago, Shawnee Hills and Hollers, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE), Students for Environmental Concerns (UIUC Students), Sustainable Springfield Inc, Tar Sands Free Midwest

March 20, 2014

Over 5,000 Ask Illinois Attorney General to Investigate Permit at Peabody Strip Mine

My latest Huffington Post blog on the Rocky Branch neighbors appealing to Attorney General Lisa Madigan is online.

I visited the Rocky Branch neighbors with a mix of sadness and inspiration this week. It's heartbreaking to see the area depopulated as Peabody buys homes and drives out neighbors. It's gut-wrenching to see clear cutting, nearby coal slurry ponds, and a company telling people they'll be sorry if they try to stay in homes where they expected to spend the rest of their lives.

But, it's inspiring to see people stand up to one of the biggest corporate bullies in the world, right in Peabody's own backyard. I'm inspired by them blocking the road to make Peabody follow the law (for a change) and obey vehicle weight limits. The Rocky Branch neighbors are standing strong to take every chance they've got.

March 16, 2014

Johnson County Illinois Residents Have Fracking Industry Panicked

Johnson County, Illinois has oil and gas interests panicked about a local effort to stop fracking. They're spending tens of thousands in the rural county to defeat a referendum that opposes fracking and defends local rights. The referendum reads:

"Shall the people's right to local self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health, safety, and a clean environment?"

The industry and their cronies recently realized that voters are siding with local control instead of handing their future over to Kansas-based frackers Woolsey Energy. A front group for the oil industry started professional mailings and robo-calls possibly funded by the Illinois Petroleum Council which complain about "out-of-state" interests. Additionally, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce spent $23,500 to promote fracking. That's a huge cash dump in a county where less than 3,000 people cast ballots in the last primary election.

Here's a tip for the fracking forces: when you're doing a mailing that gripes about out-of state-agitators, mail it from in-state. They should fire the consultant who had the bright idea of mailing it from Iowa.

DM piece front

The irony would be funny if the fracking industry weren't pushing a community-killing agenda. It's locals (not Kansas-based Woolsey Energy) who will have to suffer the consequences of fracking. Woolsey's mansion won't suffer when Johnson county property values fall. Woolsey will be counting his profits when local residents are dealing with poisoned water. His workers will be on their way to another state when Johnson county is left picking up the pieces after their roads, community infrastructure and environment are wrecked.

There's a southern Illinois saying for people who'd believe Woolsey Energy really cares about the future of their community: too stupid to find your way to town and back.

The oil industry's inflammatory attacks are dividing the community. Since their campaign began, a local newspaper publisher now refuses to run ads or letters to the editor that oppose fracking. Pro-fracking politicians threaten that the county will be sued if the referendum passes. Locals who had permission to sit at an informational table at a local business for weeks suddenly had the police called to eject them without warning or provocation.

Johnson county resident Tony Gerard recorded a video to break through the newspaper blackout and defend locals who have been organizing to defend their property rights and community.

The oil industry is trying to buy democracy in Johnson county. Residents have the chance in Tuesday's election to decide they want control over their own future without more division and destruction by outside oil interests.

March 3, 2014

Mayor Houston should keep his word and stop wasting money on Hunter Dam

During the election, Springfield Mayor Mike Houston said something sensible about the proposed Hunter Dam. It's time to fish or cut bait. If the project is rejected by the Corps of Engineers again, he believed the city should cut its losses instead of relaunching the costly process of more studies and applications.

“If they’re going to make us go back and start redoing them, then I think it’s time to probably pull the plug on the second lake,” Houston said.

And here we are. Hunter dam was rejected by state and federal regulators yet again. But, some on the city council still haven't accepted reality and are trying to revive it. Keeping this bad idea alive will mean doing another series of environmental studies and starting the costly years-long process of getting approval from scratch. Houston should keep his word. It's time to let it go.

CWLP may be able to fool the city council with a comically flawed study of the alternatives. Attempting the same stunt with EPA and the Corps of Engineers would be a foolish waste of time and money. 

The biggest water hog in Springfield is CWLP's coal power plants. New federal pollution rules will require CWLP  (probably within the next five years) to either 1) shut down their older Dallman 1 & 2 coal units which date back to the 60's and early 70's, or 2) convert them to natural gas, or 3) spend millions upgrading pollution controls on plants that are already near the end of their lifespan. Thanks Obama! The newer Dallman 4 plant is less water intensive than the aging units. 

Shutting down or converting the older coal units will make CWLP's estimate of their supposed water needs obsolete. In the near future, the city will nearly eliminate the primary reason hunter dam was proposed: keeping Lake Springfield water levels high enough for the now-obsolete coal power plants. 

An ordinance to revive Hunter Dam is on the agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting. Citizens will be there in opposition Tuesday, March 4, 5pm at the Municipal Center West. You can submit this form in advance if you'd like to speak.

Just because a small group of people figured out a way to make lots of money on a project nobody needs, doesn't obligate city taxpayers to waste more money going down a dead-end road.

March 2, 2014

Illinois Coal Campaign Cash Scandal Reveals Culture of Corruption

The Chris Cline coal campaign contribution scandal has grown bigger than I ever expected. CoalGate is getting wide press coverage and resulted in a second acting director of Mines & Minerals being removed for the same actions as Tony Mayville. Here's a rundown of the press coverage and expanding consequences since I first wrote about a former mine regulator taking campaign contributions from a coal industry billionaire.

Patrick Yeagle at Illinois Times was the first reporter to give the story the full journalism treatment. IT reported that Tony Mayville was placed on unpaid leave and an investigation is underway.
Jim Tenuto, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, says a state law on official misconduct may make the contributions a criminal act, though that’s up to a state’s attorney or the attorney general to decide. Under the state law, if Mayville solicited the contributions, it would be a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Chris McCloud, spokesman for DNR, said the contributions to the committee controlled by Mayville came to light when Mayville sought permission from DNR director Marc Miller to run for elected office. 
The trouble is that Mayville was already taking contributions from the coal industry to his Washington County Democratic political fund when he was made acting director of the Office of Mines & Minerals in 2012. It was public information easily accessible by a simple web search. It was no secret that Mayville was chair of a county political party. Did no one bother checking at the time or did no one care? Or both.

WSIL TV news interviewed Mayville for their story. He tried to keep the focus on a contribution to his State Representative campaign fund instead of the additional contributions he was taking to his political party fund since 2008.

His defense says it all. He argues that the contributions are no big deal because the company representative is a good friend he used to work with anyway. Think about that for a minute. The guy who was in charge of mine safety for Illinois, and the entire Mines & Minerals Office for a time, is saying that campaign contributions from the industry he regulates can't influence him because he's already such good buddies with industry officials. He actually argued that!

That shows exactly the problem I set out to highlight. There's a cozy good ol' boy network among DNR regulatory staff and their friends and former co-workers in the industries they regulate. A top Illinois regulator just said so!

In case it wasn't obvious enough that this is part of a broader problem within the agency, the current acting director of Mines & Minerals was jut caught doing the exact same thing. I first read at Capitol Fax, and then the News-Gazette that Douglas County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Woods Sr. was removed from his position for accepting political contributions from Foresight Energy, a company owned by the Cline Group.

Within a few days of Foresight's $10,000 donation to the Douglas County Democrats, officials disbursed much of it to Democratic candidates and other party organizations outside of Douglas County.
The largest sum — $5,000 — went to Gov. Pat Quinn's re-election campaign. Another $1,200 went to the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen's Association. And $250 went to the campaign fund of state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign.
The Douglas County Democrats also gave $1,000 to the campaign fund of Tony Mayville, a Democratic candidate for the Illinois House in the 115th District in southern Illinois. 

Douglas county Democrats had a sleepy little campaign fund until Wood got his promotion at IDNR. Then, what do you know, Foresight Energy gave them a $10,000 political contribution. It's a pattern.

Chris Cline is not an insignificant donor. He massively expanded his Illinois coal holdings in recent years to make him one of the top energy players in the state. His companies have had many issues pending before DNR and will have many more. He's making ginormous contributions through multiple subsidiaries to Illinois politicians. Billionaire Chris Cline is attempting to purchase control of the state's political and regulatory systems.

An excellent video about a recent hearing on a Cline mine near Hillsboro reveals the dysfunction of the current system.

Pat Quinn and Mike Frerichs donated the campaign funds they received from the Douglas County Democrats to charity. But, they're keeping hundreds of thousands they've taken directly from Chris Cline and his coal empire. It's a nice attempt to avoid controversy, but keeping their other Cline donations sends the message that they're still available for purchase.

It would be a disservice if Governor Quinn is allowed to deflect attention from this scandal after two personnel changes at IDNR. This is a systemic problem about the culture of a crucial regulatory agency full of political hires leftover from the Blagojevich administration. People deserve to know whether Chris Cline companies were regulated to the full extent of the law in both the permitting process and with mine safety. Fatal mine accidents and cancer-causing pollutants make this literally a life and death issue.

February 24, 2014

Illinois 13th Congressional District Democratic Candidates Answer My Questions on Climate Change, Green Jobs, Fracking

There's a three way Democratic primary to take on Rodney Davis in Illinois' 13th Congressional district. I asked the candidates questions about energy and climate change issues, and amazingly enough, they all responded. Their responses are up at Huffington Post blog.

All three accept the scientific consensus about climate change. Republican Rodney Davis continues to use the climate change denier talking point that there's still an ongoing debate about whether man-made pollutants are contributing to the problem.

All three candidates think federal oversight of fracking is too weak. One supports a fracking ban now, and another will support a ban if fracking can't be proven safe. They also spoke about how to tackle climate change and their position on fossil fuel subsidies.

Check out their full answers and please share!

February 15, 2014

Pat Quinn Gets Fracking Valentine

Cupid delivered a Valentine's Day message about fracking to Governor Pat Quinn.

Rising Tide Chicago posted video and pictures of Cupid's visit to Quinn's office with the message that the relationship between fracking and Illinois is a "bad romance."

It partly reads, "The Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act and the recent rules released by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are not based on scientific studies on hydraulic fracturing. They act to protect the profits and interests of industry, not Illinois citizens. Clean air & water and a safe climate are human rights. Hydraulic fracturing threatens these basic rights and no regulations will really protect us."

Rising Tide also posted photos of a message to Pat Quinn along the Dan Ryan Expressway last Monday.

There's a fun video of that action too. It was done in conjunction with a call-in day that united the voice of the environmental movement in Chicago and southern Illinois by asking Governor Quinn to ban fracking. It's strongly encouraging to the environmental movement in southern Illinois to see a group represent their views in Chicago.

February 8, 2014

Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline

My latest piece is at EcoNews. This is an outrageous scandal that I hope will be picked up by major news outlets. I was at public hearings on Illinois coal mines without knowing that the companies asking for permits had given political contributions to a top IDNR official. And this is the agency Governor Quinn trusts to making fracking safe?

Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline

Washington County Democratic Party. He has also supervised the Mine Safety division and served as acting director of Mines and Minerals at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Over several years, including time while Mayville was responsible for regulating Illinois coal mines, he collected thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies owned by billionaire coal mine operator Chris Cline. In November 2013 a fatal accident occurred at a coal mine owned by Chris Cline and regulated by Tony Mayville. 
Mayville chairs the political fund of the Washington County Democratic Party Central Committee. Their campaign finance reports show the committee raising thousands of dollars from multiple companies owned by the Cline Group at least since 2008 through 2013.

January 31, 2014

Disturbing Video Shows Why Illinois Regulation Won't Make Fracking Safe

A disturbing new video of poisoned water, leaking oil rigs, and lax enforcement at Illinois oil wells highlights why proposed fracking regulation won't protect the state's environment or people. The Greenpeace interview with a southern Illinois native and former oil worker shows a fracking test well in a neglected part of the state where weak enforcement at existing wells is already endangering the public.

Illinois' new fracking law provides funding for the Office of Mines and Minerals to hire new staff. But, that would only be a solution if lack of staffing were the primary problem. Governor Pat Quinn has refused to clean house and restructure an agency notoriously cozy with industry.

The rules proposed for fracking are a sign the agency intends to continue the same old culture of weak enforcement that allows companies to pay meaningless fines while continuing to operate. Proposed fines from $50 to a few thousand dollars are pocket change, and even those can be waived at the agency's discretion. Companies with hundreds of past violations may receive permits for new wells, as we've already seen with OMM's poor oversight of coal mines.

Many local residents understand something that groups headquartered hundreds of miles away who support the fracking law apparently don't. Even if the new law does everything it's designed to do, a fracking boom will still be a major environmental and public health disaster for downstate Illinois. A better funded Office of Mines and Minerals still can't be relied on to protect Illinois with only weak penalties and an internal culture that views themselves as partners with industry.

Governor Quinn failed to mention fracking when he listed accomplishments during his State of the State speech today. Just last year he pushed hard for the law and bragged about it's passage. Seven months later, it's a political liability he'd rather ignore. Efforts by the movement to ban fracking, including the MoveOn Fracking Fighter petition, are shifting political realities. And people in potentially impacted areas aren't interested in settling for whatever minor, face-saving improvements to the regulations Governor Quinn has in the works.