*UPDATE* Illinois Lawmakers: Let’s Move Forward with HF

UPDATE (Feb. 22, 2013; 8:21 am ET): Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) has released a statement praising the legislation as a measure that will ensure protection of the environment and bring thousands of new jobs to Illinois. His full statement is below:

“Today’s proposal is good news for Southern Illinois and our entire state’s economy. This legislation has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to Southern Illinois, while also ensuring that Illinois has the nation’s strongest environmental protections.

“I am committed to creating jobs and economic growth in every part of Illinois, and always making sure our water and natural resources are protected for future generations.

“I want to thank everyone who’s been working hard in good faith on this issue. While there is more work to be done, this proposal moves us forward.”

Original post, February 21, 2013

Today, two downstate lawmakers introduced legislation into the House that would regulate high volume hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, the product of literally months of negotiations between industry, labor and business organizations, environmental groups, and numerous other stakeholders.

The bill (HB2615) which would create the “Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act,” establishes new standards for things like water quality, fluid disclosure, air emissions and well construction. The legislation enjoys support from the industry, but also from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which had previously supported a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the state.

It’s worth noting, however, that the bill is not perfect by any means, as it includes significant new requirements for hydraulic fracturing that could serve as a barrier to future operations. The industry’s proposal would have created a strong but fair regulatory program in the state, matching the benchmarks set by environmental groups on what would be necessary to ensure public safety, including for critical issues like fluid disclosure, baseline water testing, public notifications and well pressure tests, among others. The legislation released today, however, went above and beyond those recommendations.

Imperfect as it is, the alternative to today’s IHFRA bill would be far more destructive: a moratorium. The moratorium bill SB1418 in the state senate would impose a two-year ban on hydraulic fracturing, which essentially amounts to a two-year time out on new investment in a state suffering from an 8.7 percent unemployment rate and the worst bond rating in the country. As we’ve described before, misinformation and activist talking points form the entire basis for a moratorium, highlighting the fundamental flaw with imposing such additional economic hardship on hardworking Illinois families.

Of course, today’s news also shows how out of touch groups opposed to hydraulic fracturing truly are.

Folks like SAFE and Food & Water Watch, among others, have desperately tried to convince the public that hydraulic fracturing is inherently dangerous and must be banned entirely. They argue no amount of regulation could ever guarantee safety, and that the only “responsible” decision is to prevent hydraulic fracturing from ever occurring again.

This sort of head-in-the-sand argument is not only disproven by safe operations in other states, where tight regulations guarantee protection of both the public and the natural environment, but also by the sheer diversity of the coalition now supporting a path forward in Illinois. Ideological opponents of hydraulic fracturing, meanwhile, have chosen to operate outside the mainstream, and have thus been marginalized by their own actions and statements. Even President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, stressed the need to expand domestic energy production, including oil and natural gas.

Although today’s bill is still a long way from becoming law, and much can change as the legislative process unfolds, it is certainly reassuring that Illinois lawmakers are making the truly responsible choice of casting aside the hyperbole and talking points, and making a genuine effort to allow shale development to move forward.

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