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Sandra Steingraber Calls Out Illinois Fracking Regulations: 'The More We Find Out, the Deeper Our Objections'

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Before environmental lobbyists and legislators push a hydraulic fracking bill through the Illinois legislature, they need to sit down with farmers in Clinton County and learn how well regulations defended their water, farms and cankered lives from the contamination of coal slurry in the Pearl Aquifer.

Then they would fight to the end, like five southern Illinois county boards, for a moratorium on fracking--instead of a regulatory compromise that undercuts their efforts.

That was the advice given to me by an old farmer this week, as Illinois' controversial bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing rushes its way to a vote that will have national implications.

In the process, potentially impacted residents in southern Illinois have repeatedly raised an important question: Who should we trust to speak on behalf of protecting our water, land and lives: The moratorium stance of Dr. Sandra Steingraber or the compromising role of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups?

Left in ruins from the boom and bust cycles of heavily-mechanized coal mining by absentee coal companies, who have left behind 1,300 abandoned mines, few other regions in the country have borne the deadly burden of compromised environmental and workplace safety regulations than the coalfields of my own southern Illinois.

In a line: Anyone vaguely familiar with the history of coal mining knows that similar regulatory compromises have been disasters.

From mining safety to stalled black lung enforcement, from deadly coal slurry spills to illegal coal ash dumps, from coal truck accidents to coal barge crashes, to violation-ridden strip-mining destruction and pathetic reclamation enforcement, Illinois' notoriously rogue, underfunded and inept regulatory agencies have generally allowed Big Coal to operate in a continual state of violation for decades.

Now comes the fracking rush, and new claims by the major environmental groups of a historic compromise for regulations for "clean fracking."

Clean fracking. Kinda like " clean coal."

Not for Dr. Sandra Steingraber, the Distinguished Scholar at Ithaca College, and a nationally acclaimed environmental health expert and author who grew up in Illinois.

"I stand with you for as long as takes," she said at a press conference on Monday on the moratorium, organized by the Illinois People's Action (IPA) and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE), "Because when lives are at stake, you want the best possible science, you want the most comprehensive science, and we're not going to give up until we get there."

She also joined Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox at the premiere of his Gasland II film documentary in Normal this week.

Testifying at the Illinois House Executive Committee Hearings on Proposed Regulatory Bill for Fracking, SB 1715, Steingraber didn't pull any punches, especially for the environmental organizations supporting the regulatory compromise:

Let me say that again, and my words here contain a special message for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan who brokered the deal that produced this piece of legislation: The backers of this bill claim that it contains the strongest regulations for fracking in the nation. That is nonsense. New York State promulgated a far stricter set of rules that prohibited drilling on state lands and set aside certain watersheds as off-limits to fracking altogether--and still we rejected them.

Moreover, New York State's regulations were subject to numerous public hearings and comment periods. Hundreds of scientists provided testimony, as did thousands of business owners, farmers, faith leaders and ordinary citizens. And thrice, over nearly five years of deliberation, we've sent a deeply flawed environmental impact statement back to the drawing board.

Because of that democratic process, New Yorkers now know a lot about fracking. The more we find out, the deeper our objections.

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