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An anti-fracking demonstration in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. (Photo: Protect Illinois From Fracking/Facebook)

Illinois Approves Secret Fracking Rules: State Enviro Council Thrown Under Bus, Grassroots Hold Line

Jeff Biggers

On the heels of the nation's fastest growing coal mining rush, a state legislative committee chaired by Sierra Club champion Sen. Don Harmon officially unleashed fracking in Illinois today, approving the final regulatory rules in secret, as legislators essentially dumped the concerns of compromising lobbyists with the Illinois Environmental Council and Sierra Club in closed-door meetings.

Despite the historic and embarrassing loss for the Chicago environmental groups, downstate grassroots group who have rallied tens of thousands of participants to protest fracking regulatory flaws defiantly called for direct actions to "resist this with our bodies, our hearts and our minds," according to farmer Blaze Smith, and continued to hold the line against the long-time denounced fracking regulatory machinations.

"The rules were negotiated behind closed doors, without meaningful scientific review," said Annette McMichael with Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment. "We are not allowed to review the new rules until Nov. 15 when they are posted on the Illinois Register. There is no doubt they will be woefully inadequate to protect Illinois residents from the known harms horizontal fracking has brought to residents across America."

"It's one more example of disenfranchising citizens," said Bill Rau, Environmental Justice leader at Illinois People's Action.

Even as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources admits to being woefully understaffed--and in violation of state laws on required coal mining inspectors-- "fracking can begin in Illinois," the Chicago Tribune announced today.

And the frackers are celebrating tonight in Illinois--and thanking a handful of Chicago-based environmental groups who unwittingly played into their hands as outmatched cosponsors in ramming through admittedly flawed fracking regulations that will have disastrous impacts on downstate communities and our climate.

Mark Denzler, chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, told the Associated Press "he was 'extremely thrilled' with the new set of rules, calling them, 'above and beyond what had been envisioned.'" In a separate statement, Brad Richards, executive vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, reminded the state that "labor, environmental and industry groups that worked together for three years to draft this legislation."

Those same environment groups are stunned tonight, locked out of the "smoke-filled rooms" they once shared with industry negotiators, still licking their wounds after failing to provide any election boost for defeated Illinois Environmental Council champions, including pro-coal rush Gov. Pat Quinn and fracking sponsor Mike Frerichs, who ran for state treasurer.

In a pathetic admission, Sierra Club director Jack Darin told the Tribune: "We don't know if our concerns have been taken into account because we don't know what changes were made."

Even more pathetic, Illinois Environmental Council director Jen Walling wrote a confusing message to supporters that "we do not have any full and final information about what's in them. It has been made clear to us through many channels that significant changes to the rules have been made that we are likely to object to." Only two weeks ago, Walling claimed "the amazing team from NRDC, ELPC, Sierra Club, and Faith in Place have been working to make sure that JCAR doesn't give a huge win to the fracking industry."

In an urgent letter sent this week, residents in southern Illinois called on JCAR to reject the fracking rules, noting several violations of Illinois statutory law:

• IDNR failed to publish a summary of the 135 page proposed rulemaking in the regulatory agenda. (5 ILCS 100/5-60).

• IDNR failed to give sufficient notice of public hearings throughout Illinois; one hearing even received zero notice in the Illinois Register. (5 ILCS 100/5-40)

• IDNR failed to make an agency representative available to answer questions at any of the public hearings held in Illinois. (5 ILCS 100/5-40)

• IDNR refused some citizens admittance to the Chicago hearing. (5 ILCS 100/5-40(b))

• IDNR did not allow some citizens to speak at the Ina (Rend Lake College) hearing. (5 ILCS 100/5-40(b))

• IDNR provided an inadequate opportunity for the public to address the factual basis for its rulemaking depriving members of the public of complete participation in the rule makingprocess. (5 ILCS 100/5-60)

• IDNR prejudiced the public's opportunity to comment, by making patently false statements in its first notice. (5 ILCS 100/5-40

• IDNR failed to comply with the requirement of HFRA section 1-97 by not submitting the required report to the General Assembly by February 1, 2014, thereby depriving citizens the opportunity to evaluate that report during the limited time for public input on rulemaking. (225 ILCS 732/1-97)

• IDNR's Delay in Publishing the Transcripts of the Public Hearings Prejudiced the Public's Ability to Evaluate IDNR's Rulemaking (5 ILCS 100/5-35)

The letter, signed by landowners, farmers and long-time southern Illinois residents concluded:

"In total, the statutory violations described here have deprived the public of its rights under the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act, and when considered cumulatively, the violations also amount to a violation of IDNR's rulemaking duties under HFRA. The rulemaking process failed in its essential purpose; the proposed rulemaking violated mandatory statutory and administrative rulemaking procedures and prejudiced the public's right and ability to participate in this important rulemaking. If JCAR finalizes these rules, then these rules will be incomplete, inadequate, and invalidly enacted to the detriment of Illinois residents who are landowners, mineral interest owners, and members of the communities where high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing would occur."

"The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned Monday that greenhouse gas levels are the highest they have been in 800,000 years, with recent increases mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels," said Illinois People's Action (IPA) leader Marilea White. "It's just crazy for Illinois to be rushing to frack."

Call Illinois crazy, then--or at least the dupes who supported the fracking regulations.

Tomorrow morning, however, the struggle for the health and safety of downstate residents impacted by reckless fracking and mining will continue.


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