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After the JCAR Vote: What’s Next

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) – a bi-partisan, bicameral group of Illinois legislators charged with ultimately approving or rejecting the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) second draft of rules for the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act (IHFRA) – has a no-nonsense reputation.

That was clear Tuesday in Chicago at JCAR’s monthly meeting. After voting unanimously for a 45-day extension to evaluate the IDNR’s latest set of IHFRA rules, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) emphasized the committee’s responsibility to ensure the rules meet “the intent and spirit of the law and negotiations” that produced highly-prescriptive legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn 457 days ago.

Ultimately, that is all the GROW-IL (Growing Resources and Opportunity for the Workforce in Illinois) coalition and other hydraulic fracturing proponents are hoping JCAR would do.

GROW’s concerns boil down to two main issues – they believe the rules effectively void agreements explicitly negotiated and agreed upon during the legislative process, and they believe the rules repeatedly exceed the statutory language, subsequently running counter to the intent of the legislation or undercutting the legislation’s intent.

GROW’s primary concerns seem to fall into JCAR’s wheelhouse, and they have no problem with JCAR taking a little time to do its due diligence.  After all, they’ve waited more than a year for the rules themselves.  As GROW stated in a press release,

“The GROW-IL Coalition understands JCAR’s decision to delay the hydraulic fracturing rule-making process by an additional 45 days.  We hope this extra time will ensure a fair and comprehensive analysis of the proposed regulations. It is our expectation these rules will resemble the spirit of the common-sense negotiations and subsequent legislation that was signed into law.”

GROW also emphasized that the situation with the current rules as they are written is an urgent one:

“At this point, several companies have expressed the concern about their ability to operate under these conditions,” the press release continued. “Our state desperately needs job creation and revenue, rules that stick to the legislation should accomplish that.”

During the meeting, Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria) gave every indication that JCAR would live up to its stringent reputation, as he expressed his hope that IDNR will return rules that uphold the law that took two years to negotiate.

JCAR is now planning to meet with IDNR Director Marc Miller prior to its next meeting to outline concerns and ask for responses and/or changes.

JCAR will meet again in mid-October. Should IDNR have revisions submitted by then, the committee could either vote on the rules or would recommend further changes to the IDNR. If JCAR recommends more changes, INDR would then re-submit a final set of rules to JCAR at the November meeting – just days before the Nov. 15 deadline for the rulemaking process. Once IDNR submits its final set of rules, JCAR can either vote to approve the rules or reject the rules via a super majority (eight votes).

The latter would start the whole process from scratch, as would missing the Nov. 15 deadline.

While JCAR and fracking proponents were conducting business in an adult fashion inside the Michael Bilandic Building, anti-fracking activists were employing their usual tactics outside. A grand total of eight people attended the event organized by activist groups, three of which were speakers. This picture pretty much tells the story.

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Predictably, the activists called for tougher rules. But of course, no set of rules will ever be tough enough for them. The only thing that will appease them is an outright ban, even though there seems to be a bit of disagreement regarding that extreme stance amongst the Illinois anti-fracking ranks.

While activists continue to push for a ban on a technology that’s been proven safe and has lifted several states out of the throes of the Great Recession, Illinois remains stuck.

Illinois’ unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation (7.1 percent) and that number is skewed by the fact that so many people are simply leaving the state to find better job opportunities. The Land of Lincoln has the highest migration rate in the nation and the worst credit rating as well.

Hydraulic fracturing would provide a remedy to the state’s financial woes. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce has estimated shale development could create more than 40,000 jobs. All one has to do is look at what’s happened in states that have embraced hydraulic fracturing to see that such rosy economic forecasts are no pipe dream: Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Colorado are all booming. The New Albany Shale has been compared to the Bakken in North Dakota and the Utica in Ohio. We all know what’s happened in those states.

But Illinois continues to be stuck in legislative limbo, a dance that’s gone on now for nearly a year and a half.

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