On the eve of the historic fracking bill vote in Illinois, a citizen uprising led by nationally acclaimed scientist Dr. Sandra Steingraber, health workers, community groups and threatened downstate residents held 11th hour meetings yesterday with aides from the offices of Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan and effectively busted the faltering argument for fracking regulations as a "jobs bill" and "national standard for environmental protection."
UPDATE: 11pm May 30
SB 1715, the Illinois fracking bill, passed the House this evening, 108-9. In response to the final vote, Dr. Steingraber stood up and denounced the bill, which now advances to the senate.
"The fracking emperor has no clothes," said Steingraber, an Illinois native and Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Department of Environmental Studies and Science at Ithaca College, who testified last week at a House committee hearing.
"The regulatory bill now before the Assembly was drafted, under the guidance of Illinois Attorney General, behind closed doors with no public hearings, no public comment period, no input from scientists or physicians or public health officials, without environmental studies or a health impact assessment. These rules are arbitrary compromises based on negotiations with industry. They guarantee neither public health nor environmental integrity."
Video courtesy of Ben Evans
Since the Governor and the bill negotiators have refused to visit a fracking operation, citizens delivered letters from impacted fracking and frac sand mining residents from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa to Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan.
Denied a meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn after months of requests, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment representatives Tabitha Tripp and Dayna Conner finally gained an 11th hour meeting with Raghav Murali, Quinn's assistant chief of staff of legislative affairs, which I attended, as well.
"The Governor's aide confirmed there is no contingency plan for our children or their health and well being down the road in the land of Lincoln," Tripp said. "When the jobs don't pan out and the water is toxic, we will have traded away our children's future for fossil fuels."
In fact, it was mind-boggling to hear Quinn's legislative aide divulge that neither he, the governor, nor most of the negotiators of the admittedly flawed regulatory bill had ever found the time over the past year to make a fact-finding visit of a hydraulic fracking or nearby frac mining operation.
In a line: Without any independent scientists or health experts or impacted residents at the negotiating table, such a head-in-the-sand revelation is an unconscionable act of negligence that will ultimately define Quinn's legacy.
As the fracking debate rages from New York to California, and the nation watches Illinois' unfolding debacle, Southern Illinois resident Tabitha Tripp also delivered a letter from actor and fracking activist Mark Ruffalo.
Video courtesy of Ben Evans
At the meetings in the Governor's office and Attorney General's foyer, regulatory doublespeak abounded -- along with some stunning revelations.
Steingraber and a delegation of residents met with Mary Morrissey , Deputy Chief of Staff for Attorney General.
"Mary Morrissey emphasized how hard she battled with industry to force them to the table and to concede to regulatory process and negotiate some basic rules," Steingraber said. "Without the efforts of the attorney general, the industry would simply have its own way with Illinois. She clearly wanted an A for effort. Instead, we were all appalled. It was plain to us that the regulations were the result of political horse trading, not science, and that this industry was more powerful than the attorney general of Illinois. According to Morrissey, the industry fought these regulations "tooth and nail." Our question: if the oil and gas industry would go to war over the mere idea of regulations, what makes you believe they will meekly cooperate with their enforcement?"
Video courtesy of Ben Evans
"Everything that Morrissey said about the great difficulty of winning concessions of any kind -- as though we should feel grateful -- just underscored the need for a moratorium. Fracking is an outlaw enterprise. If we let this bull into our china shop, our wares will all be smashed and we ourselves gored."
Despite the fact that Gov. Quinn has campaigned on behalf of the fracking regulatory bill as a "jobs bill," tacitly embracing the Chamber of Commerce's wildly embellished job figures, Gov. Quinn's aide could not provide a single estimate or even a single reference to verified data on jobs per well or fracking operations at any other site in the country, nor could Murali dispute attorney Richard Fedder's debunking of the Chamber estimates.
In effect, Quinn's "jobs bill" has gone up in smoke like the methane flares that will soon pockmark southern Illinois.
Continuing their vigil and lobbying efforts for a moratorium on the eve of the fracking regulatory bill, Steingraber and citizens groups vowed to make Illinois ground zero for the national fracking movement as the operations unfold.
"The anti-fracking movement is a growing into a nationwide citizen uprising," Steingraber said. "With or without the passage of regulatory bill, we will be escalating our actions in Illinois in the months to come and have plans for statewide education and outreach campaigns. And we will remember and call out those who dismiss the moratorium bill as pretty guest towel. It is not something to admire and walk away from. It is a basic human right."