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

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.