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.
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.
A disturbing new video of poisoned water, leaking oil rigs, and lax enforcement at Illinois oil wells highlights why proposed fracking regulation won’t protect the state’s environment or people. The Greenpeace interview with a southern Illinois native and former oil worker shows a fracking test well in a neglected part of the state where weak enforcement at existing wells is already endangering the public.
Illinois’ new fracking law provides funding for the Office of Mines and Minerals to hire new staff. But, that would only be a solution if lack of staffing were the primary problem. Governor Pat Quinn has refused to clean house and restructure an agency notoriously cozy with industry.
An 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.
The EPA wants to regulate tractor dust. Can you believe that? It’s getting to the point where a man can’t even drive his tractor down a dirt road without big government getting in the way!
That’s what Congressman Rodney Davis wants you to believe anyway. It’s a good soundbite and the fact that it’s complete nonsense hasn’t stopped some politicians from peddling this conspiracy theory no matter how many times it’s debunked.
Davis sponsored an amendment to let the Department of Agriculture comment on EPA regulation. In speeches and press statements, he argued that EPA is out of touch with rural America by reviving the old yarn that they want to regulate tractor dust on dirt roads.
The passionate push to save Illinois from poorly regulated fracking continued at the state Capitol Wednesday.
Internationally recognized ecologist and Living Downstream author Sandra Steingraber made a return trip to her native central Illinois to support the push for a public, science-based examination of fracking.
After meeting with an aide to Governor Pat Quinn who worked on the inadequate fracking regulatory bill, Sandra Steingraber and author Jeff Biggers spoke to Illinois residents feverishly pushing for a moratorium on fracking during the final days of the legislative session.
Sandra Steingraber referenced several recent scientific studies, and others which will soon be published, about the deadly public health and environmental consequences of fracking. The studies tackle issues that haven’t been discussed in public hearings because the legislature waited until the final weeks of their session to rush through a regulatory bill negotiated in private.
Steingraber noted that Natural Resources Defense Council has used the anecdote of a single fracking well operating in Illinois as an argument for passing a pro-fracking regulatory bill. She called the news a distraction and responded, “from my perspective, that’s like discovering a rapist in the community and deciding that we need a law mandating that all those planning to commit sexual assault must wear condoms.”
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 his 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.
The League of Conservation Voters released their 2012 scorecard, and it shows that the Illinois Congressional delegation is much greener today than it was last year. Most of those who had the worst environmental voting records were defeated in the 2012 election. One exception, who scored lowest of them all, wants to run for Governor.
Notoriously anti-environment, anti-science Congressmen like Bobby Schilling, Joe Walsh, and Don Manzullo (who all scored 6%) were defeated in the recent election, thanks in part to newly drawn districts.
The lowest scoring Democrat was Jerry Costello, who retired. We can hope for a better record from his replacement, Democrat Bill Enyart, but his pandering to the coal industry is discouraging. You would think more Southern Illinois politicians would have noticed that a coal-based economy has never brought stable prosperity to the region before, and it isn’t going to suddenly start now.
Two members of the Illinois delegation scored 100%! Northside Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley and my favorite Senator, Dick Durbin.
One Congressman holds the dubious distinction of earning 3%, the lowest ranking in Illinois: Aaron Schock. That surprised me because he ran for Congress as a pro-environment moderate. I thought he might have a record similar to Republican Tim Johnson, who at least scored 60%. It takes effort to have an even lower score than a climate-change denying zealot like John Shimkus.
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.
That 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.
David Roberts has an interesting article at Grist in response to a reader asking how energy journalism can be better. It got me thinking about my experiences giving interviews and pitching stories on energy topics in Illinois.
He writes that journalists and politicians are mostly sleepwalking into the great crisis of our time. With rare exception, we don’t have energy-specific journalists.
There are finance and business journalists who cover energy as a commodity business, tracking global supply and demand flows, prices, futures trading, all that sort of stuff. There are business and tech journalists who focus on cleantech. There are environmental journalists, who tend to cover energy (when they do it) through the lens of enviros vs. polluters. And there are political journalists who cover energy as a campaign and/or policy issue, sometimes as a specialty, more often as part of a portfolio.
He goes on to write that journalists generally view energy stories from the angle of of their beat, and that isn’t well suited to an issue like climate change that intersects so many national and international problems. How do journalists used to looking through one lens paint the bigger picture?
That is not necessarily something that comes easily to journalists, especially old-school reporters. Pushing climate change or energy poverty into a conversation where it hasn’t typically appeared and isn’t typically taken seriously can feel like advocacy or moralizing. It pushes against some quiet but insistent social and professional pressures. Right now, frankly, think tanks, NGOs, and bloggers are doing a better job of it.
Roberts’ observations make a lot of sense when I think about my interactions with the regional press.
Like most papers, the State Journal-Register doesn’t have a writer dedicated to energy. Several years ago I never would have expected to write that the best reporter on energy at the SJR is the business editor. Tim Landis covers developments in the regional coal industry without the critical view I would take. But, when there’s a controversial story, he does a good job of getting different perspectives and explaining complex issues. I’m consistently impressed by his work.
On the political side, there has essentially been a blackout on climate change at the SJR. In last year’s Springfield city election, they failed to ask candidates about clean energy or climate change even though the city council oversees our public utility. The decision to build a coal plant and purchase wind power was one of the hottest local government issues in the past decade but the SJR felt the top issue to cover at the utility was patronage hiring.
Their election coverage this year is no different. Every candidate is asked about the conservative wedge issues of guns and gays, but nothing on climate change. Despite the fact that state and national legislators will spend far more time on energy issues than gun control or gay marriage; despite the fact that climate change is the subject of intense citizen interest; and despite the fact that every paper in the region believes the impacts of climate change are a front page story when droughts hit farmers and rivers flood. In the 13th Congressional district race, political reporters across the district have helped Rodney Davis continue ducking the most pressing issue of our time. It’s difficult for me to understand why. Continue reading Does downstate Illinois need better energy journalism?
I sometimes hear people say they wish Barack Obama had created more New Deal style programs to create jobs like the WPA or CCC. It would be even better if he did it to build clean energy projects and deal with climate change.
I often think, that’s a great idea! I liked it even better the first time when it was called the federal stimulus bill! Then I try to remember not to be such a sarcastic jerk and politely point out that Obama funded a lot of projects like that when he decided to make energy the main focus of the stimulus bill. Many forget or never knew.
Part of the trouble is that Obama didn’t advertise stimulus jobs with catchy acronyms like CCC or WPA. Sure, there were signs at some public works projects but it wasn’t mandatory. The vast majority of jobs saved or created by stimulus funding didn’t arrive with a sign to let people know where the money came from.
For example, energy efficiency and weatherization funding. I learned at Climate Progress that, after getting $5 billion in the stimulus bill, the Weatherization Assistance Program has weatherized 1 million homes as of September 27, 2012. Woohoo!
The program is a triple win. It creates jobs, helps deal with climate change by lowering energy use, and lowers monthly utility bills. The post at Climate Progress points out that “state governments have been using a network of over 1,000 local agencies and more than 4,000 private contractors while employing an average of more than 12,000 workers per quarter to perform weatherization services across the country.”
The Weatherization Assistance Program not only created jobs desperately needed in the construction industry, it also provided a boost for American manufacturing and small businesses. More than 89 percent of the materials used in home retrofits are made right here in America. In all cases, except refrigerators (which are 62.3 percent domestically produced), retrofitting homes exceeded the national average for domestic share of all manufactured products used in the United States of 76.5 percent. Recovery Act funding went through these channels to stimulate local economies, employ thousands, and create demand for American-made supplies.
I’m sure workers in some of the factories making those materials know they won new orders because of the weatherization program. But, I wonder how many people are aware that a factory in their town was able to stay open or hire new employees because of orders generated by the program. Not many, I bet.
Consider how it was implemented in my community as a typical example. Federal money was given to the states and passed down to agencies with weatherization programs. It allowed Sangamon County to dramatically expand their program during a time of major budget cuts. I’ll be cynical and assume that the heavily Republican Sangamon County government probably operated by their usual buddy system and hired contractors they knew.
Neither Republican county leaders nor the friends they hire to do the work will go out of their way to credit Obama. In fact, many of them are the sort of people who nod their head when a politician says “government doesn’t create jobs” even if they’ve spent most of their lives working for the government.
One might read in the newspaper or on the county website that the program was expanded thanks to stimulus funds, but there’s nothing obvious to point that out when the work is being done. No one from the federal CCC or WPA came to work on their house. A contractor sent by the county did. It’s likely that many program participants are unaware or quickly forget about the connection to federal stimulus funding. Continue reading A hidden Obama success story: weatherization and energy efficiency