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.

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!