June 5, 2013

Public denied details on Illinois fracking negotiations

Several Illinois politicians bragged that new fracking rules were written with everyone at the table. That "everyone" means lobbyists from various statehouse groups, industry and politicians meeting behind closed doors, but not the public or representatives of southern Illinois groups opposed to fracking.

Last week I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the offices of Governor Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and State Representative John Bradley for minutes of meetings that lead to Illinois' new fracking rules. As expected, all three handed over nothing. Blogger doesn't appear to have a way for me to upload pdf files, so if anyone would like to see the letters just shoot me an email.

The Governor's office replied that they have "no documents responsive to your request." The Attorney General's office stated the same, but with the helpful suggestion that the legislature may have such documents since negotiations were convened by a member of the Illinois General Assembly. The letter from the legislature states they have no such documents on record either, but even if they did, they're only responding to me "as a courtesy" because they aren't subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Yes, for those who are unaware, members of the Illinois General Assembly decided they're not a "public body" that must comply with FOIA requests. Don't expect any details on how your state representatives make laws.

Those who work in the statehouse will see this as nothing unusual. Many major pieces of legislation are negotiated this way. The Illinois environmental movement has won victories in the past by supporting similarly negotiated compromise bills, such as a utility rate hike that included energy efficiency spending.

The trouble is that fracking isn't like other issues. Both because of the impact it will have on the state and because of the strong grassroots opposition to the idea that it can be safely regulated. The decision by a few environmental organizations to treat it like any other issue, instead of making a unified grassroots push for only a moratorium, is why many in the movement feel they've been betrayed by their leaders.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is to link a new series of videos with Sandra Steingraber talking about why events in Illinois must not be a model for the nation. They're all worth watching twice just in case you miss something the first time. The second video includes comments about why participating in closed-door negotiations worked against environmentalists this time...