We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don't We Know Biomass?

DDThe US Congress perseverates. Its new leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, have it bad. John McCain holds its longest recognized precondition. It is incurable and resists every treatment. Perseveration is a state of thought and speech, a mindset on a loop that repeats and repeats and prolongs an action long after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased. Think Keystone XL. Think Keystone. A political mutation from the perseveration of Obamacare.

Perseveration is a dangerous condition. It is a frequent condition that infects terrorist leadership who carry it to inhuman extremes. At home, perseveration often occurs as a host/carrier relationship between politicians and the media. Media is highly susceptible to its effects and has created recent epidemics and panics that stem from the main condition. Fears of Ebola’s spread to US soil is one such recent incident. The grand jury verdict in Ferguson is now another.

Congressional Republicans are single-minded and love to perseverate. About the XL, they ring memes: “thousands of jobs,” thousands of jobs,” “thousand of jobs;” the loud repetition masking that the pipeline has many dirty little flaws—beginning with the misleading jobs claim. Perseverating Republicans have a wild XL jobs math that includes school crossing guards anywhere near trucks with XL equipment, the counter and register workers at the doughnut shops where the truck drivers have coffee, and the supermarket worker who sells the bread for their sandwiches and the banker who receives their mortgage.

Here’s a more accurate picture: As we know, XL pipeline construction jobs will be less than the number on any NJ-NY highrise, less than those involved in building the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The XL requires infrastructure (mainly grading, bed prep including stone and rock beds, drainage, installing braces), but is easy construction (mainly bolting and welding); these jobs will turn over swiftly as it builds out. The main impact will be in transportation and heavy equipment jobs (engaged hauling pipe sections, parts and instruments; then in lifting and positioning sections for installation, transferring and moving equipment and parts along the pipeline). Total new jobs: less than 500! New jobs lasting for more than six months: 150. Permanent jobs added to the economy: 50. Mainly for pipeline monitors, reading instruments and driving along to visually inspect the pipeline for damage and leaks.

The impact on refineries? The Texas Gulf refineries aren’t empty or idle. And no one proposes building new capacity. Net result: Jobs will remain constant; output will increase. China benefits. No tanker leaves Houston or Port Arthur empty.

The Washington Post says the economy adds the numbers of jobs provided by the XL every 10 minutes and nine seconds. Exactly the time it takes Republicans to perseverate about their lie of thousands.

The danger of perseveration is not only its exaggerated realities, but it how it pushes out new ideas and solutions and keeps them away from public attention.

Biomass is perhaps the most important green energy technology no one has heard of and for which Congress has not taken up a banner of support.

At its most basic, biomass is producing energy from organic matter; burning wood in a stove or fireplace, for example. At its most advanced, biomass energy is sustainable and an efficient recycler of bio products considered waste and left abandoned by lumber and agricultural industries. It is one of the most scalable of green technologies, and breakthroughs are happening swiftly, improving the process and dropping the costs of production and transmission.

biomass_graphic

Beaver Wood Energy, a Vermont company, reclaims forest waste from logging operations. Within a 50-mile circumference of its facilities site, 2.6 million tons of logs are harvested annually, leaving behind nearly a million tons of waste, mainly in the form of tree tops and branches stripped from the stem trucks to be used as timber in construction and craft. Continue reading We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don’t We Know Biomass?

It doesn't pay to be a fossil fuel Democrat on election day

WillinoisThis was a difficult election for Democrats and it was even worse for Democrats still pushing fossil fuels. The Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus lost his seat along with a slew of others who tried to prove they’re as pro-coal, pro-oil, and pro-fracking as any Republican.

There are plenty of examples like Grimes in Kentucky. Or Tennant and Nick Rahall in West Virginia who mimicked conservative talking points on coal in their losing races. Mary Landrieau is expected to lose in a Louisiana run-off. If you can’t run on clean energy and climate change in a state that saw hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster then you’re an incompetent politician.

No state made the point more clearly than Illinois, where Democrats serious about climate won re-election while fossil fuel Democrats lost. Governor Pat Quinn once bragged about passing a bill to launch fracking along with lead Senate sponsor Mike Frerichs. Quinn lost re-election after spending months avoiding the issue (and anti-fracking protesters).

Mike Frerichs, who has been viewed as an environmental leader in the past, is still second place in a close count for state Treasurer. He raised climate change and clean energy early in the race but dropped the issue after realizing most of the environmental movement is unhappy with his lead role in launching fracking. Most environmental voters aren’t nearly as happy with the fracking law as the four statehouse green groups who supported it.

An upset few predicted six months ago is the loss of incumbent Congressman Bill Enyart to confessed dog-killer Mike Bost. The Democratic district hasn’t elected a Republican in 70 years but has a long coal mining history. Enyart became Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus with John Shimkus, who’s best known outside Illinois as the Republican who conducted a failed investigation and helped cover up the Foley Congressional page sex scandal.

What did pandering to the coal industry accomplish for Enyart? He lost by a wide margin, getting just 39%. The Green Party candidate increased her vote share to over 6%. Voter turnout was roughly half what it was in 2012. Southern Illinois Democrats had little motivation to vote with the top of the ticket, Governor Pat Quinn, angering them by cutting public employee pensions, closing important regional facilities, and launching fracking.

The coal industry didn’t give Enyart a money advantage either. His fundraising was lower than most incumbents in competitive races. His opponent received larger donations from many fossil fuel interests, including Knight Hawk Coal and Koch Industries. No matter how pro-coal a Democrat tries to be, the industry can always find a Republican who will promise more.

It didn’t work for central Illinois candidate Ann Callis running in one of the nation’s most closely divided Congressional districts. After getting a Sierra Club endorsement in the primary, over two opponents with better environmental platforms, she expressed her support  for more spending on clean coal and promised to not support President Obama on new clean air rules because they wouldn’t create enough coal jobs. By trying to find a safe middle ground she managed to make both sides of the debate unhappy. Continue reading It doesn’t pay to be a fossil fuel Democrat on election day

Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

WillinoisIllinois’ most embarrassing Congressman, John Shimkus, faced an outraged backlash for pro-fracking statements he made on Facebook. He’s already well known as a climate change denier and conspiracy theorist on the fringe of the energy debate. Although there’s a long tradition of coal mining in his district, fracking is very controversial.

Shimkus has a steady stream of constituents who regularly respond to his misleading and foolish Facebook posts. But several posts supporting fracking attracted unusually strong pushback.

The first recent post linked a radio interview in which Shimkus says fracking, “isn’t really new. Its been around since the ’40s.” This is a common talking point industry propagandists use to confuse people.
Some forms of vertical fracking have been around for decades. Recent debates and regulation are focused on horizontal, high-powered fracking, which people in the industry know was developed in the ’90s. Shimkus then says with no irony that “it’s difficult to separate what’s fact from fiction these days.” That’s especially true when someone’s Congressman is lying to them.
Shimkus then posted a picture of a fracking operation with the comment, “Looking forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois” that generated 85 mostly brutal responses from downstate residents.
  • Great idea! Let’s frack away our future! Goodbye geological stability. Hey…we’re going to need more lawyers, doctors, and environmental remediation services in the area to deal with all of the negative impacts of fracking. What a short sighted plan.
  • Southern Illinois has beauty beyond compare. Crystal clear water to drink. Clean air to breath. Why in the world do you think God would want you to do any more to this area than has already been done by strip mining and underground mining? Piling shale on the ground making our highways nasty. Please rethink this highway of thinking. You’ve been there for us in the past, please think of our future.
  • Proof we have the best congressman money can buy.
  • I’m not looking forward to such ruin of our region. Ban fracking. Put your support behind wind, solar and energy efficient design please, Otherwise, you do not have my vote.
  • Can we put one next to your house?
  • Yeah, because that well is so much more beautiful than Shawnee National Forest and the surrounding land. Idiot.
  • They are fracking in Central Illinois bypassing the Regulatory Act by staying under the volume that would cause them to wait for the rules to be finalized and by using fluids other than water to frack. See what they can get away with in this state! The Regulatory Act is going to be useless against these companies.
  • In 2012 the State of Texas reported $1.5 billion in revenues from all fracking activities. That same year the Texas Department of Transportation determined that fracking truck traffic was causing $4 billion in roadway damages statewide annually. http://www.FrackingRoadDamage.com
  • You support this you will condemn us all .It is your obligation to get the facts. Remember John we live on two fault lines.
  • “this” should be NOwhere near Southern Illinois. Trashing the land, air and using precious water to frack the earth? Oh also fracking near New Madrid fault….are you so out of touch you don’t see that?
  • So, will the first “test” sites be in YOUR backyard, contamination affecting YOUR family? Most folks boosting southern Illinois look forward to seeing forests, rock formations, lakes, and… Wineries… This picture does none of those justice. It also makes me want to move for the sake of my baby boy!!!!!!!
  • You are totally wrong about this issue; Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in the union with some of the best water anywhere. Now you want to ruin it? What the hell is wrong with you? We intend to fight this fight to the end!
  • You can’t restore ruined buildings from earthquakes, and you can’t restore polluted water once it has made people sick. You are gambling with people’s lives, to make a few dollars for a few people, most of whom don’t need it. Shame on you.
  • Fracking destroys. Fracking destroys wildlife. Fracking destroys tourism. Fracking destroys drinking water. Whoever is for Fracking has no empathy for our planet.
  • You are either incredibly stupid, incredibly uncaring, or a combination of both if you look forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois. Do you also look forward to the earthquakes that will devastate Southern Illinois? Do you look forward to the land and water being destroyed? What is WRONG with you politicians? Is that almighty dollar that you’re getting from all of these people destroying our planet going to be worth it when you also don’t have decent air to breathe, water to drink, or constituents to vote for you? I hope all politicians supporting fracking are ousted from office as soon as possible. Fracking in Southern Illinois is a terrible, terrible thing and the fact that you don’t know this makes me sick.
  • With all due respect, Congressman: ABSOLUTELY NOT! No way are the people of southern Illinois prepared for the noise, traffic, and pollution this will create. Take fracking to Chicago!
  • NO! This is *not* a sight I want to see in Southern Illinois, now or EVER! We live on two active faults. I have friends in many areas that have allowed fracking. They have constant earthquakes. No job, no income, is worth endangering millions of lives. Please re-think this.
  • why weren’t we considered for the Tesla Plant, you have any idea what 6500 decent jobs would mean to this district, well are you trying to bring long term development here? oh and talk to folks in Ohio about fracking jobs, transients living in hotels and apartments leaving on Friday, lots of work for restaurants, bars and gas stations and when the crews move on so do those crappy jobs…

I could copy dozens more.

Shimkus got cute with his response and posted a graphic of outdated and out of context quotes from former and current Obama administration officials. Then another of academics who have worked for the industry claiming there has been no water contamination from fracking.

I added my own comment this time that got 14 likes.

243 cases of drinking well water contaminated in Pennsylvania. Does it bother anyone else to have their Congressman lie to them?
http://triblive.com/mobile/6696428-96/wells-released-gas

Plenty of others chimed in with more stories, studies, and facts to correct Shimkus’ attempt to mislead his constituents. Continue reading Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

Illinois Newspaper Gives Up on Journalism, Bends Over for Oil & Gas Industry

WillinoisThe 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 first 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. Continue reading Illinois Newspaper Gives Up on Journalism, Bends Over for Oil & Gas Industry

How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?

WillinoisFracking has begun in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn’s Department of Natural Resources issued a permit for a test well at a site where oil fracking is planned. The well isn’t subject to Illinois fracking rules due to loopholes in the law passed last year.

By utilizing methods that require a lower volume of water, and exploiting other loopholes, oil frackers can avoid new regulation. As Illinois State University emeritus professor William Rau writes, that will deny the state tax revenue from those operations, along with other consequences.

Public notice requirements, baseline water testing, insurance provisions, modest environmental protections and setbacks, earthquake mitigation, bans on open pit storage of frack waste water, etc., are all gone. Illinois will become the wild and woolly west of fracking.

The public doesn’t yet know how much horizontal fracking will occur outside compliance with the law. Illinois residents are facing a major public safety crisis and state politicians don’t seem to notice.

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.

Bost is running for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ 12th district. Like many legislators, he mistakenly believed the fracking law was a consensus issue. Now, he’s confronted with the reality of people in his district outraged at seeing the law-making and rule-making process up for sale to the oil and gas industry. Continue reading How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

WillinoisThe three Democrats running in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district primary recently answered my questions about climate change and energy issues. It’s one of the hottest Congressional races in the nation since freshman incumbent Republican Rodney Davis narrowly won with merely 46.5% of the vote in 2012.

The central Illinois district is a complicated place to talk energy. Coal mining is no longer a major employer, but the industry still wields social and political influence beyond its economic impact. It contains the resting places of the two most significant coal mine union organizers in American history, Mother Jones and John L. Lewis. It’s also a farming district with agribusiness giant ADM based (for now) in Decatur. The metro-east St. Louis region is a center for refineries.

The 13th district also includes over a dozen colleges with young and educated voters increasingly concerned about climate change as the urgent crisis of our time. Environmentalists are organizing to become a bigger political player, particularly in response to the threat of increased coal mining and fracking.

All three Democratic candidates agree on the need to address climate change, promote clean energy, and protect the public from the negative impacts on fracking. Their responses reveal where they differ on details.

The Gollin and Callis campaigns asked for questions in writing. What follows are their responses in full.

First, George Gollin’s response:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: The scientific evidence for climate change is strong and alarming. It demands our immediate and continuing attention: we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change poses an existential threat to our civilization, and it is irresponsible of Mr. Davis to pretend that this is not the case.

Q: Do you have a preference for how Congress should tackle the climate crisis, such as cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, more stimulus spending on clean energy and conservation, or another approach?

A: The problem needs to be attacked simultaneously from many different directions. I support a carbon tax, as well as a crash program to further develop solar, wind, and fusion energy sources. I also support addressing the problem of radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel from conventional fission reactors using “accelerator driven subcritical fission transmutation,” which shortens the cool-down time of the spent reactor fuel by a factor of one hundred, while releasing substantial amounts of usable energy.

Q:Do you support ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including President Obama’s call to eliminate oil subsidies?

A: I support ending subsidies.

Q: Several studies have brought the climate change benefits of natural gas into question due to methane leaks. Do you see natural gas a solution to climate change and how would you address the environmental threats of fracking proposed in Illinois?

A: I am glad that we are using more natural gas and less coal to generate electricity–this reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem of methane leakage is worrisome, and in need of constant oversight and tough regulation. I do understand the economic benefits of producing energy at home.

This is a perfect example of why we need more scientists in Congress. I don’t think we know enough about fracking, and I think that’s partly on purpose. I will push for legislation to require all fracking operations to disclose in advance the chemicals and other substances pumped into the ground, and to require continuous testing of groundwater, and publication of the test results.

I will also call on the National Academies of Science and Engineering to make a comprehensive study of the state of the science on the seismic and environmental risks of fracking. The study would yield a definitive report on the reliability of the geology and other analyses used to determine the risks of fracking, including how realistically we can assess the risks of groundwater contamination, induced seismicity, methane leakage from well heads, and–perhaps most importantly–how well fracking operations can be regulated in the face of a Republican Party which will try to cripple oversight by withdrawing funding for regulatory agencies.

If the conclusion is that the safety of fracking operations cannot be firmly established, or maintained in a hostile political environment, then I would immediately cosponsor legislation to ban fracking. And even if the NAS concludes that it can be done safely, I would cosponsor legislation requiring full disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids, and the results of pre- and post-fracking water assays. I would also sponsor legislation requiring the termination of fracking operations should regulatory oversight become inadequate because of funding cuts. I would sponsor legislation requiring a fracking operator to pay the costs of enforcing regulation, and the costs of mitigating any environmental problems attributable to fracking.

If careful, honest scientific analysis shows that we cannot prove that fracking is safe, then we should ban it. Let’s get the science figured out.

Next, the response from Ann Callis:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: I believe in the vast scientific evidence that man-made pollution is contributing to climate change. This winter has shown us the volatility of our current weather, and by looking at 30 year trends there is no denying the rapidly changing environment. I will work to preserve our natural resources and protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must leave our world in a better place for future generations, and that starts with reducing pollution. Continue reading Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

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

WillinoisTony Mayville is a candidate for State Representative in southern Illinois and Chairman of the 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.

Several contributions were from Cline subsidiary Hillsboro Energy. They gave Mayville’s Washington County Democratic fund $1,000 in 2008, $500 in 2010, and another $1,000 in 2011. During that time, the company was seeking a permit from the Department of Natural Resources for the Deer Run longwall mine. Mayville was already collecting coal industry campaign contributions when Governor Pat Quinn made him acting director of the Office of Mines and Minerals, where he would oversee the mine permitting process.

Similarly, Mayville’s Washington County committee took $500 from Macoupin Energy LLC, another Cline subsidiary seeking a new mine permit.

More recently, Cline-owned Foresight Energy donated $1,000 in 2012 to the party committee, and another $2,000 to Mayville’s state representative campaign fund in March of 2013. Foresight Energy’s donation to Mayville’s campaign attracted negative attention, so last week his campaign sent a letter to the state board of elections claiming it was accepted by accident. He transferred the contribution to the Washington county party committee he chairs. The distinction may be legally significant, but regardless of which of his committees he used, Mayville accepted campaign contributions from coal mine owners while overseeing mine safety at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

This obvious conflict of interest highlights the notoriously cozy relationship between the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals and industries they’re charged with regulating. Citizens have had to fight foolish coal mines permits granted by an agency with employees collecting political donations from mine owners. The fatal accident last November at a mine owned by Chris Cline is a tragic reminder that regulation of the coal industry is literally a life and death issue. Continue reading Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline

Will Illinois Ban Fracking After Disaster Strikes Or Before?

WillinoisAn Illinois ban on fracking is inevitable. The question is whether it will happen before or after a major fracking disaster.

The public comment period on Illinois’ draft regulations ended January 3 with groups in potentially impacted areas repeating their call for a ban on fracking. A group of southern Illinois residents representing several grassroots groups drove to Illinois Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Springfield to join with Frack Free Illinois in delivering comments on the regulation and a petition asking Governor Quinn to oversee a rewrite.

Tabitha Tripp, of Anna-Jonesboro, said in a statement, “these inadequate rules will leave nothing but legacies of disasters to those who voted on this irresponsible law and abandon Illinois tax payers who will indeed foot the bill for public health issues like cancer and leukemia.”

The regulation will likely be improved before being presented to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for final approval. Even groups who supported the law are objecting to the Department of Natural Resources’ flaccid follow up. A few politicians will claim a victory for the environment after DNR makes marginal changes. But, the real weakness in the rules follows from the inadequacy of the law itself.

The law does not address the consequences of a tornado hitting a fracking site. It does not resolve the release of chemicals in a major flood, despite the fact that fracking will likely happen in floodplains of a region bordered by two of the highest volume rivers in America. The law provides for monitoring, but not preventing, fracking induced earthquakes despite the fact that it’s expected along major fault lines. If a large groundwater source, such as the Mahomet aquifer, is depleted or contaminated it could impact the water supply of hundreds of thousands of people.

A long list of other omissions in the law may be less dramatic but will be just as dangerous. For example, there’s no provision for monitoring air emissions at fracking sites, which a University of Colorado study linked to chronic health problems for those living nearby. DNR is allowed to waive fines that are already too low, and issue new permits to repeat offenders.

When pushing for the law, Governor Quinn claimed it will protect the environment. That was a lie. Continue reading Will Illinois Ban Fracking After Disaster Strikes Or Before?

The Two Faces of Governor Quinn's Environmental Policy Puts Downstate Illinois in Danger

WillinoisGovernor Pat Quinn recently spoke at the annual dinner of the Illinois Environmental Council held in Chicago, where he was applauded as a longtime ally. His record as Governor reflects his commitment to clean energy and the environment. At least when he’s in Chicago.

When Quinn travels south, the tree-hugging Dr. Jekyll transforms into a dirty energy Mr. Hyde on issue after issue.

New Coal Plants

Environmentalists celebrated when Quinn vetoed a bill to provide rate increases for a coal-to-gas plant Leucadia Corp proposed in a heavily polluted area of southeastern Chicago.

But for southern Illinois, Quinn signed a bill to subsidize a similar coal-to-gas plant proposed near Mt. Vernon. When signing the bill Quinn claimed, “This important project will help revive the coal industry in southern Illinois.” The project eventually failed after plunging natural gas prices made it difficult for the company to find investors.

After taking opposite positions for the northern and southern ends of the state, what happened when a company asked for a mandatory rate increase to subsidize yet another coal gasification plant proposed in the central Illinois town of Taylorville? Quinn stayed publicly neutral.

Expanding Coal Exports

Leading climate change scientist James Hansen recently warned that burning all fossil fuels “would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans.” At an event in Springfield, not long after becoming Governor, Quinn encouragingly called climate change the great challenge of our time.

Yet, earlier this year, Quinn bragged about setting a record for coal exports that made Illinois the fifth highest coal producing state. The release from Quinn’s office highlights efforts by his administration to build more coal export infrastructure and promote coal in foreign markets including, “supporting trade missions to the markets which represent the best prospects for Illinois coal, and potentially encouraging foreign investment in Illinois coal properties.” That will often mean nations with weak or non-existent pollution standards.

The Governor signed several bills to boost coal mining, including one to allow a surface mining operation in a state park, and another to ease the permitting process for strip mines. No, that’s not a joke. He actually leased 160 acres of a state park in southern Illinois for a strip mine.

As the expansion continues, residents in mining areas have to contend with a state Office of Mines and Minerals that’s notoriously cozy with industry and an EPA that will apparently issue a permit to even the worst mine proposed by habitual repeat offenders. Quinn’s failure to reform these agencies to better serve the public interest, rather than extraction special interests, is a disappointment to many residents in impacted communities.

People in poorer nations will experience higher cases of asthma, heart disease, birth defects, and learning disabilities among children as a result of burning Illinois’ high sulfur coal. Most Illinoisans may easily ignore those distant consequences, but not all of coal’s impacts can be exported. Destruction will continue in mining communities, and everyone will suffer the global consequences of climate change.

Clean Jobs for Northern Illinois – Dangerous Jobs for Southern

A recent report on green job growth included a graphic showing that all clean energy jobs created so far this year were in the northern half of the state. That didn’t happen by accident. Illinois’ economic development agency, DCEO, does good work promoting clean energy jobs in some areas. But, their agenda in southern Illinois is dominated by the Office of Coal Development (OCD).

The OCD oversees most of the millions in taxpayer subsidies Illinois gives the coal industry annually. The fund helps keep old, polluting coal plants running, and encourages officials in rural Illinois to stay focused on coal as an economic development strategy. Predictably, waiting for the mines to re-open has largely kept coal country in poverty compared to other parts of the state.

The same office oversees a state funded propaganda campaign that lies to children about coal. Quinn has ignored appeals to rework or end the educational program distributed in schools that tells children fairy tails of how safe and clean coal really is.

Coal is America’s deadliest power source. Many of those deaths are caused by air emissions that contribute to respiratory problems and heart disease. The death toll also includes mining accidents, like the recent one at a Peabody mine in Saline County. Twenty people lost their lives in mine accidents last year. And despite preventative equipment, Black Lung still kills hundreds of miners every year.

By allowing coal to set the agenda, Quinn is promoting safe, clean energy jobs for some of Illinois, while telling people further south they should be satisfied to base their economy on some of the most dangerous and deadly jobs in America.

A Massive New Assault on the Environment

Quinn’s most controversial action on energy is to enthusiastically launch the Illinois fracking industry, which will become one of the most expansive assaults on the environment in state history. Quinn brags that his fracking rules will create jobs while protecting the environment. But, even groups who supported the bill admit it’s inadequate. Residents will now be subjected to a massive science experiment as we wait for more proof that fracking can’t be safely regulated in a region prone to flooding and earthquakes.

greenwashQuinn had other options. As Governor, he could have supported a moratorium and pledged to veto anything else. He could have asked his staff to craft stronger regulations with or without support from industry. Instead, he asked industry lobbyists to write legislation and invited his allies in statehouse green groups to go along.

Some legislators and environmental groups who helped write the regulatory bill claim it had to be passed because fracking is already happening in Illinois. Supporting inadequate regulation was better than than a fracking boom with no safeguards in place. They cited “breaking news” of a single fracking well already operating (in a county where vertical fracking has been going on for many years) as a pressure tactic to quickly pass the bill. But, if industry spokespersons are to be believed, there was no danger of widespread fracking happening without passage of a regulatory bill.

A lobbyist supporting the bill for the Illinois Manufactures Association said, “Industry is not going to move forward until there’s a regulatory framework in place. Each well costs five to 25 million dollars so they’re not going to make that type of investment unless they know the structure they’re operating under.”

An environmental attorney quoted by the Chicago Tribune explained, ”If legislation doesn’t pass at some point this year, from the state’s perspective the risk is that the industry might invest elsewhere in other states that have more favorable conditions to invest in and develop these sorts of wells.” In the same article, the executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Energy Council claimed that, “without regulations in place, a tacit moratorium already exists.”

The head of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association said, “We agreed to the regulatory scheme because we felt like the alternative was a very real chance that we would end up with some type of moratorium.”

According to multiple industry experts, the most likely outcome of not passing a fracking regulatory bill this year would have been a continued delay of fracking, not the massive expansion of unregulated fracking environmentalists were threatened with. Continue reading The Two Faces of Governor Quinn’s Environmental Policy Puts Downstate Illinois in Danger

Help me, EPA, you're my only hope!

I was disappointed during the election when many environmental writers downplayed the role of Environmental Protection Agency regulation on coal. It was a timid response to the “war on coal” hype.

Sure, there’s not exactly a war on coal. There’s a war to save modern civilization as we know it from climate change disasters. The coal industry just happens to be on the pro-ending-modern-civilization side.

The argument downplaying EPA action bothered me. First, because I think it was somewhat disingenuous. You can’t honestly go from bragging one week about how many proposed coal plants activists have stopped, often by using EPA regulation as a tool, and the next week pretending the movement doesn’t exist. It’s the kind of defensive, weak-kneed messaging that gives tree-huggers and liberals a bad reputation. The low price of natural gas may be the bigger factor in determining the future of coal, but compliance with regulation is an important part of the cost/benefit analysis companies do when making decisions about building or retiring coal plants.

That rhetorical retreat was troubling because EPA may be our last best hope of dealing with carbon pollution during the next 2-4 years. The climate change movement will be forced to rediscover their conviction to cheer EPA action as a positive.

It’s not hard to see why. The House is still controlled by a Republican majority in the pockets of oil and coal. Even though most of them campaigned on being bipartisan, they made similar promises in 2008. We saw how that turned out.

The Senate has a small Democratic majority, but the Democratic caucus still includes fossil fuel Senators like Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin. Plus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems uninterested in exposing oil and coal Democrats to controversial votes. He refused to bring cap-and-trade to the floor two years ago because it didn’t have 60 votes to pass, but then allowed three failed votes on stripping EPA authority to limit carbon emissions.

So, a big legislative solution like cap-and-trade is about as realistic as “clean coal.” I’ve seen suggestions about a carbon tax. As much as Congressional Republicans hate the idea of any tax increase, I can only imagine the category 5 hissy fit they would throw over a tax increase to deal with a problem they won’t even admit exists. I’d be happy to see someone try, but I won’t hold my breath.

What I’ll hold out small hope for in Congress is another jobs bill focused on energy efficiency, improving the grid, and promoting renewables. That was the best part of the stimulus bill, and we need another big round of green jobs spending in term II. Preferably, they should target spending in coal regions to offset job losses.

Help Me EPAThat leaves us with the authority a previous, more functional Congress already granted EPA to limit air pollutants. Obama moved forward with expanded EPA protections after Congress failed to act during his first two years in office. Some regulations have been stalled, like CSAPR. That needs to be completed along with better rules on mountaintop removal, coal ash, and air emissions like carbon.

My number one hope for Obama’s second term is that he moves forward much more aggressively with EPA limits on deadly coal pollution. Continue reading Help me, EPA, you’re my only hope!