This 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.
There’s a simple lesson for Illinois Democrats from the Tuesday election. If you want to get re-elected as a Democrat in Illinois all you have to do is govern like a liberal Democrat.
It’s not complicated. Illinois is a Democratic state. A majority of voters are pro-union, pro-environment, pro-choice and progressive. The biggest employer is government, which does in fact create jobs. Lots of them.
Dick Durbin is a reliably liberal Senator from downstate. He’s pro-union, pro-environment, voted against the Iraq war, supports Obama, and he’s liberal on social issues. Illinois likes that. He won easy re-election in a tough year for Democrats.
Pat Quinn attacked the livelihood of public employees by pushing pension cuts. He shut down state facilities in small towns that depended on them. He supports fracking. His campaign complained about the Koch Brothers but his agenda as Governor was a slightly watered down version of Scott Walker.
That’s why Pat Quinn lost to the wild card option, Bruce Rauner. Turnout was down in Chicago, the suburban collar counties made a big swing toward Rauner, and southern Illinois Democrats stayed home.
Quinn won 64.3% in Cook county, the same percentage he got in 2010. But with turnout down, he earned about 79,000 fewer votes out of Cook than last time. That’s enough for a few Chicago-centric thinkers to claim, as they always do, that Cook County made the difference. But, even if Quinn had matched his 2010 turnout in Chicago, he still would have lost this election.
The suburban collar counties saw a large swing to the Republican. It partly came from Quinn losing a few percentage points. But Rauner gained more from voters who supported third party candidates in 2010.
For example, in DuPage county Quinn won 38.6% in 2010. He went down two points to 36.7% in 2014. The bigger swing came on the Republican side. DuPage gave Republican Bill Brady 54.3% in 2010. Rauner improved on that by six points to win 60.9%. Suburban voters who supported third party candidates in 2010 switched their vote to Rauner. That happened statewide but the swing was most dramatic in DuPage, Lake and other suburban counties where Brady wasn’t well known.
Rauner finished about as well in central Illinois as Bill Brady did in 2010. They won the same 63% in McLean, Brady’s home county. The fact that Rauner, despite being from Chicago, roughly matched the performance of a central Illinois hometown candidate is remarkable.
Illinois Republican Congressional candidate Mike Bost (IL-12) has some unusual beliefs about environmentalists and fracking. In a recent radio interview, Bost said about environmentalists:
“…if it was up to them, people should die and everything else should exist. Now, I know because I was in the negotiations with them.”
Bost was referring to his role negotiating the law that will open Illinois to fracking. Several groups based in Chicago, including Faith-in-Place, NRDC, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center participated in negotiations and supported the law over the objection of environmentalists in areas that will be most impacted.
Now, I wasn’t present for negotiations but I’ve never heard staff for any of those groups suggest anything remotely similar to the opinion that people should die and everything else should exist. In fact, most climate change and anti-fracking activists are involved to save human life.
We know the massive increase in trucks transporting dangerous chemicals is yet another unavoidable deadly hazard, especially since toxic spills shutting down I-57 in southern Illinois is already a regularstory.
Illinois’ 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.
Illinois may be more famous for imprisoned Governors, but as a coal state struggling with its energy future, some of our politicians have wacky things to say about fossil fuels. With the threatened start of fracking plus backlash to EPA proposing new rules on carbon emissions, you can expect more foolishness to come.
Since election season is upon us, it’s a good time to review the top five politicians whose uninformed and outrageous statements make them the biggest fossil fools in Illinois this year (so far).
5) Representative Rich Brauer
Few things are more cringe-inducing in politics than an elected official supremely confidant in their display of ignorance. State Representative Rich Brauer was one of several politicians putting ignorance on display during debate on a bill to end the state’s coal education program. The taxpayer funded propaganda campaign misleads school children about coal and clean energy. It includes incredulous claims that coal is clean plus a poster drawing contest that encourages children to create their own advertising slogans.
Brauer defended this government indoctrination of children by arguing that adults need educating too. “Half our energy in this country comes from coal,” Brauer claimed. He thinks his fellow legislators need to learn that Illinois coal is cheap and clean!
Brauer is embarrassingly wrong on every point. Coal hasn’t provided half the nation’s power in years. It’s under 40% and falling.
Coal isn’t cheap. The last two coal plants built in Illinois resulted in significant rate increases. Cities and rural co-op investors in Peabody’s Prairie State coal plant were forced to raise rates up to 30%. An Illinois Commerce Commission study of the failed Tenaska coal gasification and carbon sequestration plant proposed in Taylorville, Illinois showed that, even after massive subsidies, it would have produced energy at costs significantly higher than renewable alternatives. Coal keeps the rates up.
And sure, coal is clean. As long as you don’t count out of control pollution violations at Illinois mines, fatal mine accidents, increased rates of cardiovascular disease and asthma attacks, and water contamination from coal ash disposal ponds. As long as you ignore all of those things that make coal dangerous and deadly at every stage of production, then sure, coal is clean.
Rich Brauer is right that adults in the legislature need better education about coal…starting with him.
4) Congressman John Shimkus
John Shimkus is a lifetime misachievement award winner for saying foolish things about climate change, such as his claim that more CO2 is good for the planet because it’s plant food. But what has he said for us lately?
What recently caught my attention, besides his lack of concern that his constituents live in flood prone regions of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, was his portrayal of the culture in coal country. He spoke about low-income communities where coal is the only source of jobs. He mentioned his grandfather working at mines starting at only 10 years of age. My great-grandfathers worked at Illinois and Indiana coal mines so I understand the tradition.
There are some aspects of America’s culture we choose to leave behind. Slavery is one. Genocide of Native Americans is another. The history of forcing families in coal country to choose between starvation or sending children as young as 10 years old to work in a place where death is commonplace is one of those legacies best left in the past. Coal country has prouder traditions to celebrate, including organized labor’s resistance to coal companies exploiting desperate communities.
Coal country is better served by leaders who help create more opportunities, not by industry boosters like Shimkus who want coal to be our last and only option.
3) Representative Brandon Phelps
State Representative Brandon Phelps hates outside energy interests influencing politics in his district. Echoing the bellyaching of southern reactionary politicians upset about “outside agitators” in the 50′s, he accuses constituents in his southern Illinois district who are opposed to fracking of being “outsiders.”
Of course, he doesn’t mind outsiders so much when out of state energy companies are writing checks to his campaign fund. What I suspect he minds even less is the interesting way he spends their money.
Phelps collected tens of thousands in campaign contributions from the energy sector while the fracking law was being negotiated behind closed doors. Contributions in his latest report include $2,500 from Texas-based Dynegy, $5,000 from Missouri-based Foresight Energy, $1,500 from Mid American Energy Holdings Company, which is now Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway, and others. Exxon Mobil makes an annual donation as well. Clearly, Phelps takes no issue with outside energy interests, as long as they’re fossil fuel polluters donating to his campaign.
He hasn’t had an opponent in several election cycles but he manages to find ways to spend his campaign fund. His amended quarterly reports show thousands of dollars spent on car payments, out-of-district bar tabs, luxury hotel stays, and payments to staff even during non-election years.
His most recent quarterly report includes $2,386.88 in car payments. He spent $1,334.37 on multiple visits to Boone’s Saloon, a Springfield bar popular with the legislative session crowd. $628.00 went to unspecified tickets purchased from Fox Sports in St. Louis, presumably the venue that hosts various sporting and concert events.
His report for the previous quarter includes similar car payments. Plus, three payments to American Airlines for travel totaling $1,922. A more modest $187.75 went to Boone’s Saloon this time, but his totals at other Springfield hangouts include $1,809.19 at Sebastian’s Hideout, a combined $342 for “food” on three different trips to Two Brother’s Lounge, a divey downtown bar that doesn’t serve food, and $154.00 for a meeting at J.P. Kelly’s bar, which doesn’t serve food either. In Chicago he dropped $1,255.59 at Centro Restaurant. While attending the NRA Shot Show he spent nearly $5,000 to stay at the Venetian Palazzo luxury hotel in Las Vegas.
I could continue with previous reporting periods that pile up similar spending. Phelps’ district includes Alexander County where the per capita annual income is $14,222, the lowest in Illinois.
The 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 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.
Fracking 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?
The 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.
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.
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
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.