Outraged by the misleading information on the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's website for children on coal, former coal miners and citizen groups in the coal country of southern Illinois have launched a CREDO petition to bring the state's infamous coal education fiasco to an end.

Calling on statewide and national citizens groups and education organizations to join their efforts, the petition goes straight to the point: Gov. Quinn: Stop Lying to Kids About Coal.

As part of a coal education curriculum that has been widely denounced as inaccurate, deceiving and outdated--at best--the state continues to host a website for kids rife with erroneous marketing lingo that overlooks the workplace crisis of black lung disease among coal miners, as well as rising health and environmental costs from coal mining and burning, and climate change. The petition also cites a recent study that found the state of Illinois loses nearly $20 million annually to maintain the coal industry.

"The health and safety of our coal miners should never be diminished for the sake of politics and marketing," said Sam Stearns, a former coal miner, who comes from a 3rd-generation coal mining family in southern Illinois, and heads up the Friends of Bell Smith Springs. "A lot of retired miners living in the wasteland of the coal fields thought that they had pensions to supplement their Social Security for the remainder of their lives. But as they are now seeing from the Patriot Coal pension debacle, coal companies were just waiting for the opportunity to shirk their obligations to these men and women."

"Gov. Quinn needs a wake-up call that the environment, and all those who reside here, matter," said Mark Donham, with the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists, a grassroots organization based in southern Illinois that has been working on forestry and environmental issues since the 1980s. "We can no longer afford to act as if certain environmental problems, such as climate change, are not happening."

 


The petition notes three areas of special concern:


COAL MINER HEALTH AND SAFETY

The continual battle to guarantee the health and safety of all coal miners, especially for non-union operations as the industry fails to deal with rising black lung disease, needs to be openly addressed;

HUMAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS

With a mounting health care crisis from reckless increases in coal mining, and as the Quinn administration fails to protect communities from coal slurry and strip mining hazards, the kid's website refuses to acknowledge the dangers of coal slurry impoundment sites, coal ash, mercury pollution and the documented environmental effects of coal mining and burning;

COAL IS NOT CLEAN, COAL IS NOT CHEAP

Finally, it's time, once and for all, to stop telling our children that coal is clean and cheap. On top of the recent study that concludes the coal industry drains close to $20 million annually from the Illinois state budget, Illinois citizens are now dealing with the brand new Prairie State Energy coal-fired plant that plagues consumers with much higher electricity rates and emits millions of tons of CO2. Last week, Peabody Energy admitted--as the world's largest coal company, which launched its first mine in southern Illinois in the 1890s--that carbon capture and storage "clean coal" technologies are "simply not commercially available."

"Many coal miners were also farmers," Stearns said. "There was a time when land that was undermined for coal could still be successfully farmed on the surface. But strip mining and longwall mining are now ruining -- permanently, for many human generations to come -- once productive farmland. Once these modern mining practices change the topography of the land, it can never be restored to what it once was, despite the lies about reclamation that the Illinois' Coal Education Program" promulgates."

The petition concludes: "As residents of southern Illinois, we believe it's time to tell our children the truth about coal mining and burning, and ensure a brighter future with a just transition toward clean energy."

The full CREDO petition is here.

While Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn makes an admirable push to limit exposure to television for kids in daycare this month, his administration continues to flaunt a creepy, outdated and blatantly deceiving website on coal for children.

Quinn's campaign for governor may be on the uptick these days, but his state's abysmal website for kids remains a disgraceful holdover from the former Gov. Rod Blagojevich years.

Four years after the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Coal Development website for kids was first called out--on the 100th anniversary of the Cherry Hill coal mine disaster, which included four child laborers--Quinn continues to allow the widely denounced public relations front for the coal industry to represent his administration. Last month, after years of citizen petitioning, the state finally released a review of its embarrassing coal education program for schools.

As Phillip Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, crowed last week: "Governor Quinn's been pretty supportive for coal."

Pretty supportive? That's a neat understatement. Standing in the ruins from record flooding and drought this year, Quinn cast all concern about climate change to the wind and cheered his state's mind-boggling record coal exports--despite the fact that his administration has refused to enact a coal severance tax, turns a blind eye on the state's antiquated coal sales tax, and a new study that concludes the state of Illinois loses nearly $20 million annually to maintain the coal industry.

What about kids, and kids of coal miners, and kids of families affected by reckless coal mining?

Well, kids, let's ask Gov. Quinn's kid's website for answers on coal:

For coal miners:

Despite a recent medical study that cites a "sense of urgency and the need for vigilance in medical research, clinical diagnosis, and exposure prevention" to deal with rising black lung disease among young coal miners, the Illinois website doesn't even mention black lung disease or the fact that preventable disease from coal dust inhalation is increasing for coal miners.

The site also overlooks and refuses to acknowledge the state's heroic battle to end legal African American slavery in the coal mines, end child labor, and stage some of the most important union battles for workplace safety and fair wages.

How does coal affect the environment?

Perhaps because of Quinn's shameless record on coal slurry, the kid's website flat out refuses to talk about coal slurry impoundment sites, coal ash, mercury pollution and the myriad environmental effects of coal mining and burning.

In fact, despite the fact that Texas-based Dynegy is attempting this month to get a long-term waiver from environmental regulations on its purchase of five of Ameren's notorious dirty coal-fired plants in Illinois, and that Dynegy blasted the burning of Illinois' own high sulfur coal as environmentally "unsuccessful and resulted in costly equipment repairs," Quinn's Illinois website tells children in the past tense: "Technologies were developed to remove these chemicals from coal before, during and after it is burned. These technologies are called clean-coal technologies. "

That good ol' clean coal again.

Too bad that Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company whose founder is buried in Quinn's Oak Park, admitted last week that carbon capture and storage "clean coal" is "simply not commercially available."

Here's a shot of the Illinois kid's page on the environment:

And Quinn's kid's website on land reclamation?

Despite the fact that there are over 1,300 abandoned coal mines in Illinois, and the peered-review International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environmental concluded in 2006: "Mined land cropped for bond release commonly becomes unmanaged grasslands. Scant mineland is returned to trees, with survival and growth poorer than on reclaimed minelands preregulation. Problems include high soil strength, poor water relations and excessive ground cover. Sustainable plant communities have not developed"--Gov. Quinn continues to let a creepy coal cartoon figure tell Illinois children that land reclamation "is returning the land to the way it was or better than before mining."


Gov. Quinn, it's time to reclaim this website for children, and tell the truth about dirty coal.

As the nation watches the unfolding crisis of flooded fracking sites in Colorado, statewide advocates gathering in Chicago tonight for the Illinois Environmental Council's 11th annual "Environmental Leadership Dinner" might want to honor the extraordinary efforts of some real environmental leaders on the extraction frontlines in southern Illinois instead of long-time boosters for "clean coal" and fracking jobs.

According to the IEC website, the annual Environmental Leadership Awards recognize "legislators, individuals, organizations, or businesses that have made a significant achievement in the past year towards addressing the environmental community's most significant issues."

Sounds good. But, on the heels of honoring Big Coal state Rep. John Bradley with a 100 percent environmental rating last month, despite his efforts to stop a fracking moratorium bill and his success in ramming through an overlooked but nasty strip-mining bill, the biggest honor tonight goes to state Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign), who led the state's admittedly flawed fracking regulatory bill, in his words, "so that we can start the process of bringing the hydraulic fracturing jobs to Illinois."

Frerichs' own line bears repeating at the IL Environmental Council tonight: "So that we can start the process of bringing the hydraulic fracturing jobs to Illinois."

The IEC will also honor two Chicago-area state legislators for their bills on green stormwater infrastructure and municipal aggregation and the restoration of recreation liability protections to private landowners.

While he admirably speaks against climate change these days, Frerichs' commitment to dirty energy jobs, in the name of "environmental regulations," is well-known in Illinois: As one of the biggest boosters of the FutureGen "clean coal" boondoggle, Frerichs joined disgraced Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich years ago as part of the state's coal revival program and made the same claim for regulating "clean coal" and destructive coal mining as he does now fracking regulations:


"Governor Blagojevich and I understand that we must continue to invest in clean coal technologies. These grants allow the coal industry to focus on higher environmental and safety standards, while creating more jobs throughout the region and across the state."

Farmers in Frerichs' own Vermilion and Champaign Counties are now desperately fighting new coal mining permits.

Here are a few real "environmental leaders," among many in southern Illinois, where virtually all of the future fracking and largest coal mining operations take place:

1: The County Commissions from Pope, Union, Hardin, Johnson, and Jackson Counties That Voted for a Fracking Moratorium in Southern Illinois

Despite the fact the Frerichs' state fracking regulatory bill was negotiated with the gas industry behind closed doors with inexperienced environmental representatives and without a single citizens group participating from impacted communities in southern Illinois, county commissioners in five key southern Illinois areas courageously stood up to the gas industry and state official pressure.

Steve Hudson, a Pope County commissioner, introduced the fracking moratorium, and made a statement to the Chicago Tribune that should have won accolades throughout the state:

"Money's not everything in life,'' Steve Hudson, a Pope County commissioner, said of landowners who have sold mineral rights to oil and gas companies. "Sometimes we need to protect what we got. We're just keepers of this land."


Pope County has only 4,300 residents, not a single traffic light, and the highest concentration of national forest in the state. "This county's based pretty much on tourism, and I just can't see this becoming a wasteland," Hudson said.


2: The City of DuQuoin and Its Breakthrough Solar Park in Coal Country

By investing their own city dollars and amassing grants and stimulus funds, the city leaders of DuQuoin lit up a small but groundbreaking solar park in the heart of southern Illinois' coal country last year. Using union labor, unlike virtually all of the state's main coal mines, the solar park "is a way to provide reduced electrical cost to our industrial park occupants, this makes operations for these folks at our industrial park more profitable and more productive," according to the town finance commissioner Rex Duncan.

DuQuoin's uniqueness is a reminder that in a recent report on clean energy and green jobs in Illinois, not a single project was located below the central Illinois capital of Springfield, with most green jobs going to Chicago:



Courtesy of Clean Energy Works for Us

3: The Carbondale City Council, the Home of "Clean Coal" Research, Voted for a 100 Percent Renewable Energy Plan

In one of the most under-reported stories this year, the town council of Carbondale -- where Southern Illinois University boasts of its "clean coal" research program, where the coal export industry was launched nearby 200 years ago, and where huge corporations from New York listed ads 150 years ago to invest in the future of Mt. Carbon -- voted to approve a 100 percent renewable energy electrical contract in January. According to City manager Kevin Baity, Carbondale was the energy consortium's "only city to choose the fully renewable energy option."

4: With Oil/Gas Drilling Injunction Lifted, Local Heroes Like the Shawnee Vinyard Indian Community, Friends of Bell Smith Springs, and the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalist Are Defending the State's Vital Shawnee National Forest

Home of the state's defining and famed Garden of the Gods, the Shawnee National Forest and several federally protected wilderness sites, the last forests of southern Illinois are now game to Frerichs' fracking bill, after a 17-year injunction on drilling was lifted in March.

Thanks to long-time defenders like Sam Stearns, with the Friends of Bell Smith Springs, Barney Bush and the Shawnee Vinyard Indian Community, and Mark Donham and many others with the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalist, the state's most unique environmental destination will stave off attempts by out-of-state fracking operators.


5: Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment Leaders Like Liz Patula, Tabitha Tripp, Dayna Conner, Brent Ritzel, Annette McMichael and Legions More

Unlike many environmental lobbyists and leaders who operate out of their offices, far from the impacted areas of the extraction industries, the grassroots volunteers with SAFE -- Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment -- have taken the lead on the frontlines in southern Illinois to speak on behalf affected communities, to hold legislators accountable to their constituencies instead of outside corporate lobbyists, and to educate rural and unincorporated communities on the realities of fracking, water and air protection, and the flaws in Frerichs' fracking law.

While left out of the negotiations on the state's fracking law, SAFE and its many environmental leaders deserve to be in the front row of any future negotiations -- not to mention any statewide "environmental leadership dinner."

For many residents in southern Illinois dealing with the fallout of a sanctioned coal and fracking rush, the time has come to revamp the historic Illinois South organization and its role in providing impacted residents with a voice in state and federal regulatory matters.

Call it deja vu all over again.

And perhaps no one understands this better than Rev. Dave Ostendorf, the co-founder of the Illinois South citizens group in 1974, and a long-time community organizer for civil rights in Chicago and across the heartland and nation.

"Building critical mass around the stories--of people and communities most directly impacted or the stories of devastating environmental impacts--seems to me like the challenge that still lies ahead," he told me in a recent interview. "And the challenge that the good folk of Southern Illinois face."

Based in the historic coal town of Herrin, Ostendorf and his co-workers effectively organized local communities to use their stories and voices to take on the rogues elements of the coal industry during a coal rush four decades ago. Illinois South organized locally-led workshops, conferences, farmer's markets, and published a series of fact-finding pamphlets, including "Who's Mining the Farm: A report on the energy corporations' ownership of Illinois land and coal reserves and its implications for rural people and their communities."

At the invitation of city officials in Sparta in 1978, for example, Illinois South organized a series of public hearings that allowed local residents to have a hand in developing unprecedented protections against strip mining operations by Peabody Coal.

"The Illinois South Project's participation with the people of Sparta in this process," Ostendorf wrote years later, in Thunder at Michigan and Thunder in the Heartland, "taught us that social change organizations can play a critical role in such negotiating process without compromising their own goals."

new Illinois South courtesy of Matthew Schultz, Graphic Design

That was then; but is today a similar story? While Illinois South eventually transformed into the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and shifted to farm matters, many of the same issues facing coal and extraction areas have come back into play in southern Illinois.

And come back in a fury. It's bad enough that the state of Illinois is ensnared in a national disgrace over failed coal mining regulations and protection measures.

But the recent debacle over Illinois' admittedly flawed new fracking regulations, hammered out last spring in backroom negotiations between gas industry and state officials, and a handful of inexperienced and non-impacted environmental representatives, was a flashback to 1977 for many long-time activists, when compromising Big Green organizations and legislators abandoned the strip mining abolitionist movement and opted to "regulate" strip mining, instead of banning its undeniable wrath of destruction in the coal areas.

In 1977, in the afterglow of the OPEC energy crisis and a new scramble toward coal production, President Jimmy Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, an admittedly "watered down bill" that would enhance "the legitimate and much needed production of coal."

Few residents in the impacted coal mining areas agreed. An Appalachian coalition working with the heartland and western advocates considered the bill "so weakened by compromise that it no longer promised effective control of the coal industry or adequate protection of citizens' rights." Writing in the Illinois South newsletter in 1987, on the tenth anniversary of the mining law, legendary Illinois activist Jane Johnson declared: "People in the cornbelt felt betrayed."

A similar feeling of betrayal was issued this summer after Illinois passed its fracking regulations.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the French proverb goes, and perhaps it's particularly apt for Illinois: The French were the first Europeans to discover coal in the Americas, along the Illinois River in the 1600s, that ultimately launched the first coal industry on our nation's soil.

Now based in Wisconsin, on the edge of frac sand mining operations, Ostendorf took part in an interview on Illinois South and today's challenges in the same region.

Jeff Biggers: Describe the circumstances that led to the founding of Illinois South in the 1970s?

Dave Ostendorf: The energy crisis of 1973--when OPEC launched an oil embargo curtailing shipments to the US--prompted public panic in long lines at gas stations nationwide, and growing calls for (the ever-elusive) "energy independence" that would allegedly "free" the country of its reliance on Mideast oil. Illinois politicians and coal industry moguls seized the opportunity, and began touting Illinois coal as a primary answer to the nation's energy needs and future, particularly in light of the "promise" of coal gasification--the new technology that would convert the resource into oil.

From their home in Godfrey, my parents began sending me newspaper clips about the situation; I was in my second and final year of the new Environmental Advocacy Masters program at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources following seminary and ordination in the United Church of Christ. The situation piqued my interest. I began talking with Roz, my spouse, about it, along with others in the UM program. Then Governor Walker announced a statewide conference on Illinois coal in Springfield, and Roz, our UM friend and colleague Mike Schechtman, and I attended the conference to "get the lay of the land." In the winter/spring of 1974 we began serious discussions about heading to Southern Illinois to begin working with/organizing communities to address the impacts of the new/emerging coal boom; I did a road trip in the spring of that year to talk with folks and make another assessment before we took the plunge.

In May, 1974 we (Roz, Mike, our infant daughter Kyra, and I) loaded up a small U-Haul truck, got in our cars, and headed to Godfrey, where we based for several weeks while we scouted a locale for our work. The weekend after our arrival we attended the annual meeting of the Illinois South Conference of the United Church of Christ (my home Conference) where we presented our concept, got a very warm and engaged reception for it, and left with a commitment of financial support ($5,000!) for each of the ensuing two years. We were elated! We found an old (coal heated...) house in Carterville, where we lived collectively and had our "office." The Illinois South Project was launched. We moved the operation to Herrin later, once we had become somewhat established and had sufficient funds to pay real office rent.

JB: How would you depict the relationship between the coal industry and state agencies and politicians in those days?

DO: Hand-in-glove. The Walker administration was pushing coal development hard--all the usual jobs/economic development blather. The agency apparatus of the state was mobilized to jump in the industry's lap with the Governor as he laid the foundation to save America with Illinois coal (right...). Ironically, in going back just today to check some dates/relationships, I found a link I had not been aware of before. Walker was a law school student with George Kelm, and later they were partners at the same Chicago law firm and active in Dem politics. Kelm went on to head Sahara Coal, and the Woods Foundation. I was also reminded today of Taylor Pensoneau, the St. Louis Post Dispatch political reporter who covered Walker (and later co-authored a book on him), and who went to work as VP for the Illinois Coal Association in 1978. Interesting indeed.

We didn't really have the capacity to do the deep and necessary political research work that may have strengthened our hand as the ISP emerged in those early years. In the current context I think that this is absolutely essential and, hopefully, somewhat easier given the availability of and access to web-based information, links, and relationships.

JB: Many Big Green groups accepted SMCRA as compromise on stripmining. Did you and Illinois South agree?

DO: A challenging question. We pushed hard for prime ag land preservation, and for the highest standards of land reclamation in the Act. We were still pretty organizationally young in the 1975/76 period and I think it's safe to say that we did not have the experience or the clout or the base to seriously impact the legislation. In retrospect and in light of the power of the coal industry in that day, I think it's quite accurate to say that the Act was a compromise that, in the long run, of course, did not serve the interests of impacted communities.

JB: Why do you feel regional representation, especially among impacted residents, is necessary on state and national regulatory decisions? In Illinois, in particular, do you think environmental reps in Chicago should speak on behalf of people in southern Illinois?

DO: The age-old political challenge of Illinois life: Chicago vs. downstate. I'll never forget one of the first meetings Mike and I had with an area legislator, who told us up-front that the only way anything got done in Southern Illinois was via compromise with Chicago politicos. The Illinois divide is deep and lasting, a reality of political life that must be dealt with creatively by folks on the ground whose lives and communities are most directly impacted by state/national regulatory decisions.

When it comes to environmental groups/reps in Chicago speaking on behalf of the people of Southern Illinois--no way unless those who are/have organized in the region have agreed that they might do so, and that their positions reflect the will of the people of the region. Period.

JB: Given the recent regulatory compromise over fracking in Illinois, against the wishes of downstate citizens groups, do you see parallels between 1970s and today?

DO: Certainly. I think, however, that one of the key differences between dealing with the coal barons of the past and those (coal/oil) interests of today is the relatively slow speed by which deep or surface mining developed vs the comparatively lightning speed that fracking has developed and continues to expand. The difference, to me, is astounding and presents significant (and perhaps unparallelled?) challenges to communities/regions confronting fracking.

The impacts of "conventional" deep and surface mining have been known for decades and generations, as have all the trade-offs and compromises thereof, if you will, and the struggles of workers and communities to minimize those impacts has been virtually unending and continuous to this day--as you have written about so powerfully. Those struggles and fights must continue!

Fracking, on the other hand, is taking the nation by storm. The proverbial jury still seems to be out re its environmental impacts--i.e., even though those impacts are increasingly known, public opinion still seems unshaped about whether fracking is ok or not... and is leaning, in my estimate, toward indifference in light of the perceived economic benefits.

In my own silica sand township here in Wisconsin's Mississippi River valley a new sand mine was considered and approved so quickly that there was little real opportunity to assess its impacts, nor did residents have much information to be able to do so. This wasn't simply a quick and successful political move by the sand company as much as it was a wake-up call to area residents, who have lived with sand mining for years and who are relatively unaware of the sand mining onslaught that the industry will likely precipitate.

I'm not sure yet what this means strategically re how best to take on fracking mania. Theoretically, an immediate, pressing issue should make it easier to organize/mobilize people. But again, it feels like we don't have enough of "the goods" on the adverse impacts of fracking--especially the stories of people and communities most directly impacted (except for the boom towns of ND), or the stories of environmental impacts devastating/debilitating enough to get peoples' attention (e.g., the loss of water tables). Building critical mass around the stories seems to me like the challenge that still lies ahead-- the challenge that the good folk of Southern Illinois face.

Two years after a national campaign exposed a coal industry-bankrolled curriculum foisted on unwitting teachers and children, the state of Illinois is still dragging its feet to revamp its own widely denounced, misleading and climate change-denying "Coal Education Program" for schools.

Here's the punchline, kids: On the heels of a recent study that the coal industry annually drains nearly $20 million from the Illinois state budget, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Coal Development now says it's too broke to promptly respond to a long-awaited evaluation of the discredited coal education program.

"The office is currently operating with a sharply reduced staff," DCEO spokesman Dave Blanchette said in an email yesterday, "and they don't expect to have a full implementation plan completed for several months."

Several months? After waiting for years, with Illinois in the midst of a reckless coal rush and mind-boggling coal exports during record years of drought and flood and climate disruption, where's the sense of urgency to promote "public awareness and education" about the health, human and environmental impacts of the "coal and the coal industry," as mandated by the Illinois Coal Technology Development Assistance Act?

That same lack of urgency is also shared among the hired evaluators of the Coal Education Program, who recommended that the state program "could improve" over the "next 24 months."

The coal education evaluation team was composed of two University of Illinois professors who were awarded a lucrative DCEO grant for project proposals that would "improve coal extraction, preparation, and transportation systems within Illinois."

In a strange omission of any possible conflict of interest, the Illinois evaluation team of geologist Sallie Greenberg -- a long-time booster of the FutureGen "clean coal" boondoggle, and associate with the coal industry-backed Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium -- and I-STEM specialist Dr. Lizanne DeStefano apparently failed to disclose they had both been participants in the same controversial coal education conference program they were hired to evaluate.

Greenberg at 2012 DCEO Coal Conference


While Blanchette confirmed that the unabashed coal industry propaganda piece, "From the Coal Mines to the Power Lines," has been "suspended," the DCEO still insists on maintaining a shameless website for kids that claims air and water pollution from coal mining and burning has been virtually eliminated (despite decades of documented evidence of coal ash and slurry contamination, mercury and CO2 emissions), that miners work in safe conditions (despite a spike in black lung disease), and perhaps the most egregious example of utter falsehood: a creepy cartoon figure that claims land reclamation "is returning the land to the way it was or better than before mining."

Fact-check: According to a special study by Southern Illinois University scientists on sustainable strip-mine reclamation, published in the International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environmental in 2006: "Mined land cropped for bond release commonly becomes unmanaged grasslands. Scant mineland is returned to trees, with survival and growth poorer than on reclaimed minelands preregulation. Problems include high soil strength, poor water relations and excessive ground cover. Sustainable plant communities have not developed."

This is only the natural resources. Like Illinois' Coal Education Program, there is no mention of the forced displacement and stripmined and longwall-mined destruction of historic communities and farms across the state in the process.

I understand this fact first-hand: A poorly maintained coal waste pile now splatters onto a county road during rain storms in my family's once vibrant Eagle Creek hills in Saline County, where our 150-year-old family farm, church and native Shawnee forests on the edge of a federally-protected wilderness area were stripmined into oblivion last decade, and still remain a pockmarked valley of ruin and depopulation.

Coal waste adjacent to the Eagle Road in Saline County


This kind of empirical data from citizens and miners impacted by coal mining is also scant in the new evaluation of the Coal Education Program.

In the meantime, as Illinois state officials dally on any changes to their coal curriculum, children will most likely still have to ward off the pushers of state-funded dimebags of coal--unit price: 10,000 bags @.25 per bag -- distributed as part of the program.

And pay the ultimate price, of course, for climate change.

When farmers, families and besieged Hillsboro residents gather this evening for a public hearing on a controversial permit proposal by a coal company to build a second 77-foot-high high hazard toxic coal slurry impoundment within city limits, the stakes will go beyond the threatened health of this iconic central Illinois farm town.

Overwhelmed by one of the biggest coal rushes in the nation, led by an absentee coal baron from West Virginia, Illinois citizens will be facing a rogue state division in the Office of Mines and Minerals/Department of Natural Resources that has lost any local or statewide confidence in the application of appropriate safeguards in the design, construction, and inspection of coal mines and high hazard coal slurry impoundment dams.

In effect: As the nation watches once again the mind-boggling spectacle of a notoriously gutted, biased and inept state agency, the blatant subversion of democracy is at stake this evening -- along with the health and welfare of a small farm town and its surrounding areas.

"The location of the second impoundment is disastrous," said Mary Ellen DeClue, a long-time area resident and respected mine whistleblower, who has testified and attended public hearings in her area for years. "I didn't think any location could be worse than that of impoundment # 1 situated in the watershed of Old Hillsboro Lake, but impoundment # 2 is even a greater concern."

The concerns of Hillsboro residents are hardly unfounded for the second high hazard coal dam, which will stretch 10,800 feet and have an impoundment capacity of 8,500-acre feet. Earlier this spring, only days after record rain fall and flooding in central Illinois led to a state of emergency, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released part of a study of similar coal slurry impoundments in West Virginia, the majority of which failed to pass required standards. In addition, a recent study by the non-partisan Downstream Strategies found that Illinois loses $20 million annually to maintain the state's coal industry. In essence: Coal is not only too dangerous, but too costly.

According to DeClue and members of local Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Hillsboro Energy's permit # 424 fails to answer a slew of unanswered regulatory questions, and would compromise the health and safety of the community and threaten farmland and water resources.

"The proposed second impoundment is too close to city residents, the first impoundment, and active mining," DeClue added. "Failure of the impoundment will produce tragic loss of life and property. The second impoundment will cover a considerable area of abandoned mine workings. Has there been a careful study to prevent any breakthrough from this impoundment? What methods were used to determine the exact size, depth, water content, stability of the mine voids below the impoundment?"

Here are maps of the proposed impoundment inside Hillsboro's town limits:

Two years ago, the same rogue Illinois agencies attracted national attention--and federal agency scrutiny--for the shameless way in which they rammed through a violation-ridden high hazard dam in Hillsboro.

Tonight: The besieged residents of Hillsboro--and the deeply rooted farmers in the surrounding areas--desperately need help from law enforcement officials, public interest organizations, farming groups, and community rights activists.

And they're not alone: Residents dealing with the toxic fallout of coal mines, coal slurry and unenforced land reclamation disasters across the state of Illinois--from eastern Murdock, to central towns of Banner and Canton, to my own stripmined Eagle Creek in Saline County--have appealed for help in dealing with the rogue actions Office of Mines and Minerals.

Once again, the time has come for intervention by Illinois state Attorney General Lisa Madigan and federal enforcement agencies.

Once upon a time, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was charged with the mission "to manage, conserve and protect Illinois' natural, recreational and cultural resources, further the public's understanding and appreciation of those resources, and promote the education, science and public safety of Illinois' natural resources for present and future generations."

If there ever was a moment for someone to file a historic writ of mandamus--"to command a public official to perform some ministerial nondiscretionary duty in which the party seeking such relief has established a clear right to have it performed and a corresponding duty on the part of the official to act"--now is the time.

It gets worse.

Just a little over a decade ago, with Illinois' collapsed high-sulfur coal industry languishing in the pits of irrelevance, the state unable to compete with the Powder River Basin in Wyoming or central Appalachian mining areas despite massive Illinois welfare and subsidies, Turris Coal Company president and eventual Illinois Mining Institute president Roger Dennison made a desperate appeal that "somebody has got to help Illinois coal."

Dennison's underling at Turris Coal--Scott Fowler--must have heard his boss loud and clear.

In the 1990s, Dennison and Fowler worked closely together to mine coal and even co-sign contracts to sell coal to the City of Springfield. Dennison and Fowler are still selling coal to Illinois politicians in the Springfield capital--this time, though, Fowler is on the inside of a state agency.

Within a year of Dennison's appeal for "help," Fowler would eventually become a Division Supervisor at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the Office of Mines and Minerals, and literally oversee various permit hearings and procedures for Dennison, who became head of the new Hillsboro Energy mines.

Has Fowler or the IDNR ever made a public disclosure of any conflict of interest for the very person intimately part of the permit process for the state's coal mines?

Here's a screen shot of Fowler and Dennison's coal sales as business mates in the 1990s:


If there ever was a moment for citizens groups and environmental organizations in Illinois to join other states, such as West Virginia, and file a formal administrative law petition with the Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to terminate Illinois' approved regulatory role and implement a federal regulatory takeoever--now is the time.

In the meantime, the nation will continue to watch if democracy--and the health and safety of farmers and town residents--will prevail in Hillsboro tonight.

The fracking rush in the heartland may have been unleashed by ill-conceived regulatory measures last month, but frontline organizations and citizen groups in southern Illinois are not throwing in the towel -- or even taking vacations this summer.

Welcome to Fracking Independence Days.

One of the most effective and outspoken citizen groups on the frontlines in the region, SAFE -- Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment -- has embarked on an ambitious plan to meet the frackers head on.

"SAFE has a major role in not only fighting for a healthy clean environment," SAFE activist Tabitha Smith Tripp told me, "but also that of re-educating people of their basic rights and how to interact with our government at even the local level."

In a long line: SAFE plans to follow up its nearly two-year volunteer grassroots campaign and post-regulatory fiasco fracking manifesto and incorporate as a 501c3 non-profit, broaden its alliances with other extraction-impacted communities, educate property owners and rural citizens on community rights, and the short and long term risk of fracking and to take the lead in monitoring water and air permits and activities, initiate legal challenges and defend its communities, Shawnee National Forests and watersheds from out-of-state fracking companies.

In essence: All that's necessary to ensure fracking-free independence in southern Illinois.

And to this end, with an unprecedented fracking rush on their doorsteps, effective frontline groups like SAFE need support--funding, legal assistance, and national backing. Now. This summer. This fall. Long-term.

Deeply rooted residents in southern Illinois are no strangers to the recklessness and devastation of extraction industries: Absentee coal companies have left the region in ruin for decades, with over 1,300 abandoned and toxic mines, destroyed farms, forests, and hundreds of miles of now contaminated waterways; an oil rush in the 1940-50s left behind tens of thousands of abandoned toxic wells; and unchecked logging resulted in deforestation and erosion in the state's unique Shawnee National Forest.

Now caught up in the exploding coal exports market on the Mississippi River, Illinois is also slated to be targeted for expanding oil pipelines. Add a fracking boom to this explosive mix.

Enough, says SAFE.

The days of extraction mayhem are over. For the first time in decades, with generations of experience, southern Illinois has seen an emergence of citizen groups willing to take on fracking, Big Coal and reckless logging operations, and are now calling for a new movement for a just transition to clean energy manufacturing and development, community rights and water and forest protection.

I did this interview with Tabitha Smith Tripp, who has taken a leadership role in SAFE and frontline-based anti-fracking activism on a national level.

Tripp also played a key role in the recent legislative battle in Illinois to pass a moratorium instead of flawed fracking regulations. Check out her testimony in front of Gov. Pat Quinn's office here:.

Jeff Biggers:  Describe SAFE and its role in advocating for a frack-free Illinois, and its relationship with other citizens groups and environmental orgs.

Tabitha Smith Tripp: Our mission is to ban fracking in Southern Illinois, most urgently horizontal fracking, until such a time as any extraction method presents no risk to our land, air, or water. To fulfill our needs for energy, employment, and habitation, this implies the need to develop non-polluting technologies which do not threaten our soil, air, or water.
 

 

Our struggle is against a long-standing trend to intimidate and separate residents and communities from each other, which is antithetical to the basic concepts of democracy. If we are to succeed in protecting both our resources and our communities, we must re-establish and protect our human rights as granted by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois, and to fulfill our human duty to protect the soil, water, air, wildlife and human beings so that we might prosper, and that we might be good stewards of these resources.
In our efforts to ban fracking, it is also our mission to awaken a community spirit among the people of Southern Illinois and create a popular movement that educates people to their rights and mobilizes them to act in the protection of these rights.

SAFE is (or will be soon) a not-for-profit 501c3 charitable organization, operating independently of other groups but in conjunction with those organizations or citizen groups who also choose to work boldly toward a ban on fracking.

JB: What are SAFE's main immediate needs, in terms of funding, office space, outreach, and wider support?

TST: The movement is in a new phase. I can only presume to guess that a full time and a part time staffed position are needed, as well as retaining an attorney for many of the legal concerns raised on a daily basis.

All the things that go into an office...rent, utilities, phone, copier, paper, print cartridges, etc. I would need more time to research the approximate figure for the basics.

Travel expenses -- it is three hours north to the thick of the New Albany shale -- a tank of gas and 360 miles -- if we have volunteer groups willing to do water testing of surface water we should be willing to compensate mileage at what cost I don't know, but if SAFE gets a 501c3 then what SAFE can't cover would then be a tax deduction.

Fracking poses a risk to the commons; air and water. Rural Illinois citizens need to have access to funds to have their water tested for specific chemicals that will provide the water well owner burden of proof evidence should there be contamination of a well. Currently the law does not test residents outside of a 1500' radius of the well bore and the well may extend up to a mile or more. It has been suggested that anyone within 1 KM of the well bore in any direction should have their well tested.

A basic pre-frack test is about $400. SAFE would like to have a fund to help families in need who would like testing but otherwise can't afford it. If nothing else, an Illinois tax credit when using a certified lab.

Air monitoring devices:

Radioactivity monitoring devices for alpha and gamma particle

Water testing at a certified lab: min $400 each

The needs of this movement are vast.

JB: Illinois is once again in the mist of an incredible coal mining rush -- with a nearly 25 percent increase in the last year, and a five-fold increase in coal exports. Should frontline anti-fracking and coal mining groups be working together to deal with the extraction rush, and do you think groups like SAFE also need to be discussing "transition" efforts to clean energy production?

TST: The extraction industries are a perpetual boom bust cycle that has plagued Southern Illinois for as long as it has been inhabited by Europeans. Whether it was salt mining, logging, the various forms of coal removal, conventional oil drilling or hydro-carbon extraction via high volume high pressure horizontal fracturing, it perpetuates a mentality of victimization and enables rural communities to remain in a state of helplessness, instead of learning healthy means of sustainability via alternate means of commerce.

SAFE would gladly welcome conversations and the opportunity to create a regional planning group focused on transitional and long term strategies for maintaining a local economy based on sustainability and clean energy methods.

We plan for our children's education, we buy life insurance just in case, so they are "taken care of" in the event of an untimely death, but I find it ironic that when we talk to our elected officials about how to insure a healthy environment for our children's future, it falls on deaf ears. There is no contingency plan.

I mentioned this idea to Sierra Club: I wanted to be part of the 2050 club -- the planning committee for the future, to anticipate 40 years down the road what our children can expect, to mitigate the pollution in terms of generation instead of elections -- well, you know what happened -- I was told good luck getting members and laughed at.

If we could work together with other anti-extraction groups in southern Illinois, what would that look like? At one point, we considered going to friends in coal mining to wage a bet- but that's like selling your soul to the devil.

Based on the latest research for coal in Illinois -- it's costing taxpayers $20 million annually- what will the cumulative cost of fracking burden our children with? -

By taking back our communities from corporations and their subsequent greed, creating allies in similar pro-environmental groups, we could shift the tides, make use of shared resources and educate more rural areas to the propaganda and fallacies that spread virally in the words "jobs, economic boost, economic stimulation, etc."

JB: With the new fracking regulatory rules on the books in Illinois, what do you see as the main priorities for SAFE and impacted residents in southern IL this summer and fall?

TST: SAFE's primary goal is to continue to educate property owners and rural citizens on the short and long term risk of fracking. We value our constitutional right, IL Article XI, to a healthy environment. SAFE will continue to support a moratorium and work towards a ban. Another of SAFE's primary goals is litigation at the state level based upon the right to a healthy environment.

SAFE would also like to help counties and local governments put ordinances in place that protect the communities from the abuse of industry.

As far as what the public can be doing to prepare and SAFE will be assisting with these as much as possible as a resource to IL residents:

Every one should be taking before pictures, to document what your communities look like before frackers come to town. Document what the roads look like, the lack of light in the evening in rural settings. make recordings of the sound of nature in communities and rural settings.

Test for radioactivity--I laughed about this at first, but hey, if there is no "before" you can't prove it after--and by after it may be ten years from now that all your neighbors end up with breast cancer and you can say well back then... and now there is "x" in the air or water.

The water testing is a big one.

Counties have the right to enact road restrictions, sound ordinances, light ordinances (fracking rigs operate day and night, trucks don't stop delivering fuel, water or chemicals).

Surface owners need to be educated about their rights with regard to forced pooling and forced integration.

Did I say water testing yet? I really can't express the importance of this enough. Another issue that I hadn't thought of was having the flow rate testing and documented. As we have seen in other states, like Colorado and even in place like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and most recently Michigan, water sources will be depleted, especially in times of drought. Measuring the flow rate of water wells will grant the home owner some validity when a well goes dry and a complaint is made to the state and consequentially in litigation. Once a property has been depleted of a water source the property value then decreases considerably making the home less salable and desirable.

Get a current appraisal or updated tax assessing. it could be that the value of your real estate drops due to one of the side effects of fracking -- dry well, pollution, air quality, road spill.

Blood testing for chemicals frequently found near fracking sites. $400 each.

Are local EMT and first responders equipped to handle an emergency, know who to call in the event of a spill -- that 1-800 # should be plastered in every news paper throughout Southern Illinois.

Citizens need to know how to object to a permit. SAFE at this time does not have the staff or the resources to fight each and every permit that comes through. We highly encourage everyone to participate in the process of public hearings as it is our only means of democracy at this point in the industry's game. They will need experts and current research, attorneys to work pro-bono or reduced rates... there is much work to be done, and SAFE needs staff and resources to be the most beneficial for this movement.

JB: Mainstream environmental groups based far from fracking operations are now raising funds to monitor fracking operations, and continue frack-free advocacy outreach. Do you think funders, such as foundations, need to put more money into grassroots and impacted frontline movements like SAFE?

TST: The extreme diversity of Illinois, whether it is the imbalance of population or the cultural differences, climate or varied topography from one end of the state to the other make outreach and education throughout the targeted fracking zone an issue. Rural organizing and movement building in the back roads of deep southern Illinois is a arduous and fiscally demanding task. Grassroots activist do what they do because most often it is their community at risk.

Covering the expenses of devoted volunteers for simple things like fuel and mileage for educating citizens about water testing or document printing, or sharing a question and answer meeting with concerned property owners, is something we can't offer currently, SAFE feels that may be one of the ways to boost volunteers help by covering legitimate expenses.

Attorneys who have graciously and selflessly helped SAFE with legal documents and advice have "real" jobs. Legal advice and assistance are necessary for SAFE to continue to be effective and informative to citizens in southern Illinois, we would like to be able to retain an attorney. All these are "things" that big national organizations already have due to the multiple issue they are involved in.

SAFE is in the thick of it all, at the fore front of the fight, resources are sparse, and the work load is heavy. Funding would help immensely.

JB: Despite various concerns over loopholes and enforcement, the fracking regs recently passed in Illinois thanks to the support small cadre of non-impacted environmental groups based in Chicago, Springfield, and Urbana. Do you feel frontline citizen groups like SAFE have been left out of the larger fracking discussion in Springfield (and Washington, D.C.), and if so, what role should they play in the future?

TST: There are select few making decisions for a great many folks. It's happening in IL, it's happening in D.C. This is no surprise. SAFE was left out, we had no representation from southern Illinois except for Rep. Bradley who was the sponsor of regulatory bill.

What role do grassroots groups play in the future of policy making? (My attitude is one of disgust and dismay.) In my news feeds on line, I see all kinds of grassroots efforts to initiate change in the system and the powers that be. I see protest and uprisings, I see indigenous groups holding back trains and tents in NY city parks, but I see a great majority of people who have been oppressed long enough and often enough that disempowerment has rooted itself like mustard grass here in the Prairie state. SAFE has a major role in not only fighting for a healthy clean environment, but also that of re-educating people of their basic rights and how to interact with our government at even the local level.

So many people, myself included, have never been to a county board meeting, sat in week after week, to press upon an issue dear to their heart.

Giving people the courage, the tools and the knowledge to impress upon elected officials that change is needed to insure a stable and sustainable future for the next generation is a positive role that SAFE and any other grassroots can model.

JB: How did you get involved with SAFE?

TST: A friend sent me a movie link about fracking, it was Gasland. I was in tears while I watched it, appalled and speechless. I thought "what are we doing to our children?" I have two young kids, we live on a fourth generation family farm with a well, and it's really good water. I had hoped that my kids would have a small lot next door and make themselves the fifth generation on the farm. But without clean water, there is no reason to stay.

I began to research the chemicals, the pollution, the waste disposal methods, the derailing of democracy in small communities where fracking had occurred, met people who had lost their water to vertical "conventional" fracking. This isn't an issue that was going away without a fight.

One of the most astonishing facts I learned was 85 percent of Illinois would be at severe to moderate risk for water shortages by the year 2050. This was a study commissioned by NRDC, one of the environmental groups supporting the regs. What is even worse is the numbers used in calculating these figures did not take into account the exorbitant amount of water permanently withdrawn from the hydrological cycle, nor did it take into account accelerated increases of atmospheric temperatures dues to increases methane emissions due to the fracking "boom."

How, in their right mind could anyone one say that trading water, clean water, for fossil fuel and strong regulations is a good idea. Jobs won't mean anything if there is no water to drink.
So I became involved with SAFE after the first public meeting. I will fight for what I love and what I believe in. Like most parents, you do anything and everything to protect your kids from harm.

JB: Do you consider SAFE to be the main frontline fracking organization in Illinois?

TST: SAFE is one of the few organizations in the thick of the battle, we have active members spread across all of Southern Illinois and as far north as White county. We have been actively meeting since March of last year and have many devoted volunteers doing a massive amount of public service and education. It would be egotistical to think we are the only group fighting fracking over the 1000's of miles in Southern Illinois, but we have made our presence known in Springfield as well as nationally.

We have recently heard through the grapevine that the group RACE and Friends of Bell Smith Springs are becoming active again as the threat of fracking looms over the Shawnee National Forest. SAFE welcomes our allies, local and statewide to join us here Southern Illinois in the fight to ban fracking in our rural communities.

SAFE, like all citizens groups on the frontlines, needs your help.

The world is not just watching the unfolding fracking bill debacle at the Illinois state capitol.

As the Illinois General Assembly votes this week on the state's increasingly suspect fracking bill, residents affected by similar operations in Pennsylvania and frac sand mining in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota took the extraordinary step today of releasing unprecedented letters warning of a "public health disaster" in the making, and called on Illinois lawmakers to set aside the flawed bill and "swiftly enact a moratorium."

"We have learned the hard way that regulations--no matter how strict they sound on paper--do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded," states the letter signed by impacted Pennsylvania residents, released publicly this morning, along with links to a eye-opening "List of the Harmed" health registry of fracking-related afflictions.

As a powerful response to last week's House Executive Committee hearing on fracking bill SB 1715, where every member on the committee made the breathtaking admission of having never visited a fracking site, the letter challenges exaggerated promises of jobs and revenue, and provides a firsthand look at the growing health, workplace and environmental costs of Pennsylvania communities "transformed into toxic industrial zones" over the past five years.

Speaking on behalf of "communities situated atop vast deposits of silica sand, which are a necessary ingredient in the fracking process," neighboring residents in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota also underscored the need for Illinois lawmakers to reconsider the rushed fracking bill in their separate letter:

We are suffering greatly from the industrial strip-mining and processing of silica sand that has been the direct consequence of the ongoing shale gas boom in this nation. Our communities, our land, and our health are in the process of being literally destroyed by it. We beg you to declare a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, as we are sure that, should you move forward with this regulatory bill and open your state to large-scale fracking, the demand for frac sand will increase further, along with the price--and thus along with the pressure on our own political leaders to escalate further the devastating practice of frac sand mining and processing.

Key themes: Recklessness and liability.

Especially for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose apparent backroom brokering of the fracking regulation bill without scientists or health expert involvement has already triggered statewide outrage and placed the controversial issue of fracking into next year's gubernatorial race--just in time for cash-strapped counties to struggle "with infrastructure maintenance, much less improvements, expansions or hirings needed for schools and services once drillers and others associated with fracking start moving in," according to a recent Chicago Tribune review of fracking tax gain.

Illinois, as the Pennsylvania residents note, is not alone in taking the fracking leap. But given its longer rap sheet, a recent Pennsylvania poll showed overwhelming support for a moratorium. New York awaits a decision, as well.

"A well may end up being poisoned a year from now--and then what?" New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters last month, as he awaits a state health assessment on fracking. "I don't want the liability, frankly, and I don't have the knowledge."

In an editorial on Sunday, the LA Times scolded Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and handed over their support for a fracking moratorium as "the prudent course."

That same message was echoed by the Albany Times Union two months ago: "Whether you feel that natural gas fracking is the economic salvation of New York or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, there is one indisputable fact about it: The science is not in. Not by a long shot. And that's why a moratorium in New York makes sense."

Admonishing Illinois lawmakers to "enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study," the besieged Pennsylvania residents didn't pull any punches on their warnings: "If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. "

The full letter is below.

May 28, 2013

Illinois General Assembly
Governor Pat Quinn
Attorney General Lisa Madigan
State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Governor Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, and Members of the Illinois General Assembly,

We write today to urge you not to allow high-volume horizontal fracturing ('fracking') for oil and gas in Illinois. We, the undersigned residents of Pennsylvania, are among the many victims of fracking. Informed by extensive first-hand experience with the oil and gas industry and suffering from the impacts of fracking, we implore you with the greatest sincerity to protect the health and safety of the people of Illinois and swiftly enact a moratorium on fracking. We have learned the hard way that regulations--no matter how strict they sound on paper--do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded. Also, regulations cannot prevent accidents, and this is an industry prone to accidents of an especially frightening nature and whose effects are not temporary.

The oil and gas industry promises that fracking is safe and that it will create jobs and bring your state riches, but Pennsylvania's experience in the past five years tells a very different story. In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish; only a fraction of the promised jobs and revenue for the state have come to fruition; and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime. What's more, the jobs have made many workers so sick that they can no longer work in the industry.

A week ago, the Scranton Times-Tribune revealed that oil and gas development from fracking damaged the water supplies of at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, as indicated by state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records. The Times-Tribune notes that this number is not comprehensive; an exhaustive analysis was made impossible by DEP's lack of transparency, poor record keeping, potentially inadequate testing procedures, and lack of cooperation with the investigation. Regardless, with around 4,000 wells drilled during that four-year timespan, these 161 cases show how common and extensive water contamination is from fracking operations. These numbers are not surprising given the high rate of well casing failures. By the gas industry and the DEP's own data, well casing failure rate in Pennsylvania is 6.2% (rising to 8.9% in 2012). Failures occur when the layers of cement and steel that encase the well--providing a barrier between the toxic fracking fluid and freshwater aquifers--are damaged or become corroded. Even with the most careful workmanship cement can shrink, crumble, and crack as it ages.

Because the chemicals used in fracking operations are highly toxic, water contamination is a very serious problem. Although the industry blocks attempts to know what chemicals and combinations are used, we know that it is a cocktail whose ingredients are selected from a possible menu of around 600 chemicals. Those include many known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They include chemicals such as benzene, toluene, hydrochloric acid and petroleum distillates. In addition to the chemicals used by the industry, the operation releases many hazardous materials from the shale itself, including radium, uranium and radon, arsenic, and mercury. Cows that have consumed water contaminated with used fracking fluid (flowback waste) have quickly died, and land where it has spilled has been scorched.

For us, fracking has been a public health disaster. Victims experience symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, burning eyes, sore throats, rashes, hair loss, severe nose bleeds, nausea, blood poisoning, liver damage, intestinal pain, neurological damage, cancers and many more. Many fracking victims who have suffered these health symptoms sign legal agreements that force them to forfeit all rights to speak about what has happened to them in order to settle with multi-national oil and gas corporations. Although many cases have been hidden from the public eye through these non-disclosure agreements, we have compiled a 'List of the Harmed' that now well exceeds 1,000. Our efforts to create this lay registry of healthy problems in an attempt to compensate for the legally enforced silence of our medical community. After extensive lobbying by the oil and gas industry, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13, which, among other things, places a gag order on doctors who deal with victims of fracking and who wish information about the possible chemicals to which their patient may have been exposed.

The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project - an initiative of medical experts - is working with Pennsylvanians affected by fracking and has concluded that health impacts are serious and that we still do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision or to be able to claim that ANY regulations will protect public health.

One major, uncontrollable problem is hazardous air pollutants, which are emitted from wellheads themselves, as well as from flares, dehydration devices, compressor stations, and the thousands of diesel trucks that are needed to service each well. Silica dust--a known cause of lung cancer and silicosis--is also a problem in an around drilling and fracking operations. We live with the knowledge that our children are breathing in hazardous air, and are left to wonder what and how severe the ramifications will be in their future.

Our environment has been transformed seemingly overnight from beautiful countryside and farms into toxic, heavy industrial zones. Commutes that used to take 30 minutes now take two hours because of the truck traffic. Many of our schools and playgrounds are blanketed in carcinogenic silica dust. Towering flares light up the night sky, while health-damaging levels of noise penetrate our homes 24/7. Only a small fraction of the promised jobs and revenue have materialized, with most jobs going to out-of-state workers and most revenue accruing to a only few individuals. Meanwhile the community has had to pay for road and bridge damage, increased accidents and need for more emergency workers, and we've had to live with increased crime rates.

In addition to the water contamination, air pollution, industrialized communities, increased crime rates and ruined farms, we've also experienced countless spills, blowouts and disasters. Communities have been evacuated because of explosions and uncontrolled leaks and fires.

As we have experienced the horrors of fracking firsthand for years, we have also carefully followed the industry in other parts of the country and watched the science that has emerged. We have followed what is happening in Illinois with great dismay. We are certain that your proposed regulations will not protect the health of Illinois residents, your farms, communities, environment, and everything that makes Illinois special. Please, do not make this mistake.

If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. The oil and gas industry cannot and must not be trusted. We implore you to enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study. This is the only responsible course of action, and far too much is at risk to do otherwise. We would be glad to speak with you, and we invite you to our homes and communities to see fracking and its impacts first-hand.

Speaking on behalf of a broad network of communities, sincerely,

Ron Gulla, Hickory, PA
Adam Headley, Smithfield, PA
David Headley, Smithfield, PA
Grant Headley, Smithfield, PA
Linda Headley, Smithfield, PA
Ray Kemble, Dimock, PA
Jenny Lisak, Punxsutawney, PA
Matt Manning, Montrose, PA
Tammy Manning, Montrose, PA
Randy Moyer, Portage, PA
Vera Scroggins, Silver Lake Township, PA
Craig L. Stevens, Silver Lake Township, PA

What happens in Illinois, doesn't stay in Illinois--especially when you're dealing with the national ramifications of a combined fracking and coal mining rush unparalleled in recent memory.

As a sit-in movement continues at the office of Gov. Pat Quinn in Springfield, Illinois, besieged southern Illinois residents who have been left out of backroom legislative negotiations over a controversial and admittedly flawed regulatory fracking bill are calling on the nation to contact Gov. Quinn and Lt. Gov. Lisa Madigan to "put a moratorium on drilling to investigate its full climate and health impacts."

Residents are also asking for concerned supporters to call members of Illinois' legislature to vote against a bill that health expert Sandra Steingraber has denounced as unscientific and unsafe.

Over a half century ago, Nobel laureate William Faulkner confronted Southerners who quietly allowed the South to "wreck and ruin itself in less than a hundred years" with segregation and civil rights violations. He begged his fellow Southerners to "speak now against the day, when our Southern people who will resist to the last these inevitable changes in social relations, will, when they have been forced to accept what they at one time might have accepted with dignity and goodwill, will say: 'Why didn't someone tell us this before? Tell us this in time?'"

That time has come to speak now against the day in Illinois--and the nation is watching.

Photo courtesy of Frack Action.

From water contamination, air pollution to earthquakes in one of the nation's most deadly seismic zones--conferring with a U.S. Geological Survey, there is already a 90 percent chance that a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake will occur in the New Madrid seismic area within the next fifty years--the unleashed fracking rush promises to not only leave southern Illinois in shambles.


If passed, Illinois' so-called historic compromise of regulatory doublespeak--hailed by Gov. Quinn as "a new national standard for environmental protection and job creation potential"--will open the floodgates for similar fracking operations across the nation.

Not only fracking. Unleashed under the same illusory regulatory guise, Illinois is the midst of one of the biggest coal mining rushes and export pushes in the nation.

Illinois is now standing in violation of state law for failing to provide enough coal mining inspectors. How can we imagine fracking oversight will be any different?

In effect, Illinois and its Mississippi River banks are becoming another ground zero, like the Canadian tar sands and Keystone pipeline, in the battle over the unfolding climate change crisis.

My son and I stood on the banks of the Mississippi River last month, watching the spill over from the latest floods.

"We have to do this together as a family," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had told rain-drenched reporters in Chicago. "When we have any kind of emergency, we work together for the common good. We help each other."

Indeed, it is the common good of my son's future, the ninth generation of my family to be born in Illinois, that concerns me.

Within days of Quinn's declaration of a state of emergency, two more historic announcements made their way down the famed river.

With little fanfare in the media, scientists confirmed CO2 levels had crossed the 400 parts per million milestone for the first time in human history, as the inevitable current of climate change passed in front of our eyes. No one blinked at this Titanic foreshadowing.

At the same time, Gov. Quinn announced Illinois had recorded a five-fold increase in coal exports in 2012, thanks largely to the Mississippi River's historic trade corridor.

Quinn's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity called it "truly an unbelievable achievement."

Given the fact that coal burning remains the world's leading source of CO2-induced climate destabilization, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it's truly an unbelievable act of denial.

In addition, just inland from the river and east of St. Louis, the rising Peabody Prairie State 1,600 MW coal-fired plant will soon become the worst newly built national emitter of CO2--at nearly 13 millions tons a year--in nearly three decades.

In the last few months, Illinois has witnessed near-record-low water and then torrential flooding. At the first of the year, government officials spoke about potentially shutting down shipping lanes on the river, due to a drought that had brought water depths to only nine feet in some areas.

"While the conditions are much different than they were this winter, the effects are quite the same," a Coast Guard spokesperson told the media last month, as he handled the sinking of 11 coal barges in a recent accident.

How much longer can we afford this river of denial until our own ships in southern Illinois, the heartland and across the nation sink?

The answer to that question will only come when we recognize the emergency at hand, in the words of Gov. Quinn, and work together for the common good.

And that begins with calling for a sensible moratorium on fracking.

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.

And that's because, when you look under fracking's hood, you see terrifying problems. Behind the hard sell and soothing promises, this contraption is unsafe at any speed.

Here's what we've learned in New York: Regulations cannot prevent well casings from leaking as they age and fail. Or keep methane from migrating through underground faults. Or eliminate the 24/7 noise pollution from drilling. Regulations cannot keep benzene from rising out of boreholes. There is no good storage solution for radioactive wastewater. And the jobs fracking provides are temporary and toxic.

Thus, Attorney General Madigan needs to know that should this bill pass and become law, she will be held personally responsible for every contaminated well, every fiery explosion, every horrific accident, and every sick child.

More fundamentally, scientists haven't yet identified all the chemicals released from drilling and fracking operations. Clearly, if you don't know what impacts need mitigating, there is no way of judging if any given set of regulations sufficiently mitigates them.

You can watch Steingraber's complete testimony here:

(courtesy of SAFE)

Steingraber concluded:

A moratorium would also allow you time to study occupational health threats to the workers in the industry. These include, but are not limited to, head injuries, traffic accidents, blunt trauma, silica dust exposure and chemical exposures. Oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times that of other industries; silica dust exposure is definitively linked to silicosis and lung cancer. With jobs creation as a central argument for the approval of fracking in Illinois, your need to understand the health and disability risks that come with these jobs.

I'll close with lines of poetry from Illinois' noble poet laureate, John Knoefple. The poem is titled, "Confluence," and is set on the banks of the Sangamon River: The world in peace / This laced temple of darkening colors / It could not have been made for shambles.

With fracking, shambles is what you get. Illinois, you are worth so much more than the wisps and puddles of gas and oil inside your bedrock.

As someone who has witnessed the destruction of "regulated" coal mining on miners, families, farms and forests in southern Illinois, this sounds to me like a compromise worth fighting against.