May 23, 2013

Interview with second citizen arrested for demanding fracking meeting with Governor Quinn

A second person in two days has been arrested for demanding that Governor Pat Quinn meet with citizens about proposed fracking legislation. Southern Illinois resident Dayna Conner was arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol building Wednesday after two days of waiting outside Quinn's office with others who want a meeting.

Governor Quinn and members of the legislature brag about the fracking bill being negotiated with lobbyists from multiple interests groups. It's how controversial issues are often dealt with in state government. Legislators vote after lobbyists from all sides emerge from a back room with a deal. Fracking negotiations were done behind closed doors by invitation only.

This time, citizens aren't standing for it. Residents in fracking regions like Dayna Conner are demanding that they have a voice in a public process.

I spoke with Dayna earlier Wednesday outside the Governor's office while she waited for a meeting. Here's a short clip of why she felt her arrest was necessary.

She believes that citizens in regions threatened by fracking and grassroots activists haven't been heard by the Governor and his coalition of lobbyists. After 18 months of citizens requesting a meeting, she says the Governor is siding with industry over residents in fracking regions.

After the bill regulating fracking passed the House Executive Committee, opponents told me they felt ignored and dismissed by their elected officials. Southern Illinois was represented in negotiations by the bill's main sponsor, Representative John Bradley. He spoke about how much he cares for water quality in his area, but after taking thousands in campaign donations from fracking interests, he has zero credibility.

Opponents of the bill have many reasons for believing it's inadequate. My biggest concern is that all permit applications must be approved or denied within 60 days. Thousands of permit applications are expected in a short period of time. They'll be processed by a badly understaffed and underfunded Department of Natural Resources that already fails to adequately enforce existing regulation.

When there's no time to thoroughly review a permit before the 60 day deadline, can we expect an agency that's notoriously cozy with industry to exercise caution on the side of public protection? This is the same state that issued an absurd coal mine permit to a company with hundreds of environmental violations.

All of this will be happening in some of the poorest areas of the state where many people don't have the resources to hire an attorney to help protect their property and water rights. I find it difficult to believe there will be meaningful oversight as long as permits must be issued so quickly, regardless of how little they have been reviewed.

This looks like a recipe for a rubber-stamp disaster.

Dayna Conner has been released and the sit-in will continue. Stop Fracking Illinois is encouraging people to join the sit-in outside the Governor's office in the Capitol building and to join a coalition of groups for an event Friday at noon. There's no apparent danger of arrest for peaceful participants unless a person chooses not to leave at the end of the day after warnings from law enforcement.