Anti-Shale Activists Trying to Upset Democratic Process
On Tuesday of this week (May 21), lawmakers in Springfield, Ill., will be considering a historic compromise on hydraulic fracturing, which will pave the way for responsible development in Illinois and establish some of the strongest regulations in the country. This legislation – filed as Amendment 1 to SB 1715, and which was the product of more than a year of discussions, compromise, and in-depth reviews of science and facts – was designed to address concerns specific to Illinois, and it enjoys support from an impressive coalition: environmental groups (including the Sierra Club, the NRDC, and the Illinois Environmental Council), labor (including the AFL-CIO), the business community, the oil and gas industry, and agriculture groups, among many others.
Yet, despite this unprecedented level of support, a small yet vocal minority of ideological activists continues to think that the rules are inadequate and have somehow been “rushed.” They’re planning to meet at the Capitol in Springfield on Tuesday, during which time they’ll hold a press conference and likely try to make as much noise as possible. The headliner will be Sandra Steingraber, a well-known activist who has likened hydraulic fracturing to a “tornado on the horizon” and disgracefully advanced the alarmist narrative that fracking causes cancer – even though actual scientists disagree.
The goal? Make a ruckus and prevent the Illinois legislature from passing the agreed-upon regulatory bill.
To be sure, we’ve examined in depth the claims that Illinois activists have made about hydraulic fracturing, and – lo and behold – they’ve been thoroughly debunked. But because ideologues don’t typically bother with self-reflection or legitimate research, these same groups continue to repeat their talking points, as if scientific and regulatory consensus mean nothing.
More alarming, however, is that the debate here in Illinois over hydraulic fracturing has taken place in a variety of forms. There have been public hearings and forums. We’ve read countless letters to the editor and op-eds. News stories and editorials from every major newspaper have tackled topics ranging from environmental issues to economic benefits. Lawmakers in Springfield have been occupied for months on end examining data, scientific reports, and studies from across the country regarding hydraulic fracturing and shale development. Social media and blogs are overrun with points and counterpoints about potential impacts, good and bad.
This is the essence of compromise, something that our legislature seems unable to do with almost anything else. It’s long, it’s arduous, it’s frustrating, and yes, it often results in outcomes that some people are not 100 percent satisfied with. The agreed-upon regulatory bill is no exception. Each constituency within the large and diverse group of supporters has stated that it’s not a perfect bill, and that there are things they wish were different. But they also recognize that the benefits of development are too big to ignore (as an example, look at North Dakota’s 3.2 percent unemployment rate), and ensuring safety is a superior goal to just sticking our heads in the sand, denying jobs to Illinois citizens, and preventing a responsible path forward.
What opponents are trying to do is frankly a fundamental disruption of democracy. The public debate has played out in a variety of channels throughout the past year, and a large and diverse majority of Illinois interests have united to support a path forward for shale development. The legislation is based on science, and it has been carefully crafted to address the needs and concerns of folks across our state. Those facts, among others, demonstrate why the legislation enjoys enormous bipartisan support.
Simply put: Just because anti-fracking activists don’t like the results of the democratic process should not give them license to upend it.
Responsible shale development in Illinois would create tens of thousands of jobs for a state suffering from an unemployment rate exceeding nine percent. It would encourage investment in a state with the worst bond rating in the country, and would generate new tax revenue that could address an out of control budget deficit and fund vital public services. At a time when businesses are fleeing our state, shale development would lead to an influx of much-needed new investment.
It’s bad enough that anti-fracking activists oppose new economic growth for Illinois. The fact that they’re willing to hamstring a historic compromise to do so is just shameful.