Illinois

Thu, 2014-02-20 15:22Mike G
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Peabody Energy Faces Popular Revolt at Illinois EPA Coal Hearing

Last night, at an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing about a water quality permit for the expansion of a Peabody Energy strip mine in Rocky Branch, IL, local residents made it clear that they've had enough of the coal industry's destructive presence in their community.

According to writer Jeff Biggers, residents outnumbered Peabody supporters four-to-one among those willing to make public comments, and they had one overriding message: “We the people of Rocky Branch,” one resident, Jennifer Dumberis, said, “we will decide what happens to us and our civil rights—not Peabody.”

This is not the first time Illinois residents have taken their concerns directly to Peabody and the regulatory bodies who are failing to protect Illinois communities from the impacts of the company's mining operations. Residents have presented ample evidence of what has been done to Cottage Grove township, which is adjacent to the strip mine Peabody is seeking to expand: blasting that is like “small earthquakes”toxic coal dust that seeps through cracks in their homes caused by the blasts, and polluted waterways that some residents fear will eventually make their homes uninhabitable altogether.

Peabody had already started clearcutting the area intended to become its Rocky Branch Mine, just south of the Cottage Grove strip mine, but federal regulators stepped in and ordered Peadody to stop logging immedately because it was being done in violation of the law.

It's unclear what, if any, benefits Peabody can offer the residents of Rocky Branch should its strip mine be allowed to expand. No jobs are expected to be created, and the state already loses an estimated $20 million annually to support the coal industry.

Citizen action to hold coal companies and regulators accountable is more important than ever in Illinois, as the coal industry does not seem to be waning in the state. Even while coal is losing market share across the country and renewable energies like wind power are rapidly achieving cost parity (in fact, wind is already cheaper than coal in Iowa, Illinois' neighbor), Illinois just received a $1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue the controversial “clean coal” project FutureGen.

Mon, 2013-12-09 05:00Steve Horn
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Stink Tanks: Historical Records Reveal State Policy Network Was Created by ALEC

A 1991 report tracked down by DeSmogBlog from the University of California-San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) was created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), raising additional questions over both organizations' Internal Revenue Service (IRS) non-profit tax status. 

Titled “Special Report: Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks” and published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the report states that State Policy Network's precursor — the Madison Group — was “launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.”

Further, Constance “Connie” Campanella — former ALEC executive director and the first president of the Madison Group — left ALEC in 1988 to create a lobbying firm called Stateside Associates. Stateside uses ALEC meetings (and the meetings of other groups) as lobbying opportunities for its corporate clients

“Stateside Associates is the largest state and local government affairs firm,” according to its website. “Since 1988, the Stateside team has worked across the 50 states and in many local governments on behalf of dozens of companies, trade associations and government and non-profit clients.”

Constance Campanella; Photo Source: Twitter

Named Constance Heckman while heading ALEC, Campenella also formerly served on the Board of Directors of Washington Area State Relations Group, a state-level lobbyist networking group. 

“The Washington Area State Relations Group (WASRG) is one of the nation’s largest organizations dedicated exclusively to serving state government relations professionals,” explains its website. “Since the mid-1970s, WASRG has been providing its corporate, trade association and public sector members with a unique and valuable opportunity to interact with their peers, key state officials and public policy experts.”

Tue, 2013-11-26 15:31Steve Horn
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Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands. 

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

Thu, 2013-05-30 11:45Steve Horn
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Fracking "Shock Doctrine" Unveiled as 2013 Illinois Legislative Session Nears End

The shale gas industry has performed the “shock doctrine” at the 11th hour of the 2013 Illinois State Legislature's debate over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drllling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins nationwide. 

This year, both the Illinois House and Senate are set to adjourn for the year on May 31 and the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act will likely receive a full floor vote by adjournment. The regulatory bill has 59 House co-sponsors and eight Senate co-sponsors. Democratic Party Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill when it arrives on his desk. 

With the deadline looming rapidly, anti-fracking activists - or “fracktivists” - have been protestingsitting intestifying in committee hearings and committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience daily at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. 

Two days before that deadline, the Associated Press (AP) reported that records from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) indicate fracking already has begun in Illinois' New Albany Shale Basin

“Carmi, Ill.-based Campbell Energy LLC submitted a well-completion report last year to the [DNR] voluntarily disclosing that it used 640,000 gallons of water [fracking] a well in White County,” AP reports. AP also explained the report was first obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  

The last-minute announcement paves the way for a “buzzer beater” public relations effort by the industry to ram through a regulatory bill deemed the “most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation” by its proponents and a “worst case scenario” by its detractors. The bill was predominatly written by Illinois Oil and Gas Association (IOGA), working alongside two major environmental groups: the Illinois Sierra Club and NRDC

NRDC told DeSmogBlog it caught wind of the Campbell Energy well-completion report not from the industry itself at the negotiating table, but through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FOIA request also showed another company has fracked a well: Strata-X Energy Ltd.

Tue, 2013-05-21 09:36Steve Horn
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"Gasland 2" Grassroots Premiere in Illinois Highlights Industry PSYOPS and Ongoing Fracking Fights

Gasland 2” screened yesterday in Normal, IL and DeSmogBlog was there to gain a sneak peak of the documentary set for a July 8 HBO national premiere. 

Josh Fox's documentary played at the Normal Theater, the second-ever screening since the film officially premiered on April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City

The movie builds on Fox's Academy Award-nominated “Gasland,” further making the case of how the shale industry's hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom is busting up peoples' livelihoods, contaminating air and water, polluting democracy and serving as a “bridge fuel” only to propel us off the climate disruption cliff. 

A central theme and question of the film is, “Who gets to tell the story?” That is, industry PR pros and bought-off politicians utilizing the “tobacco playbook” and saying “the sky is pink,” or families directly injured by the industry? Fox explains how the industry has gamed the system, ensuring the communities have their voices drowned out. The Gasland films seek to tell some of the victims' stories. 

Another theme is the bread and butter of following any big industry's influence: following the money. In depicting the financial clout of Big Oil, “Gasland 2” shows that the oil and gas industry has gone to the lengths of deploying warfare tactics - literally - on U.S. citizens to ram through its agenda. 

Thu, 2013-02-28 09:51Steve Horn
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ALEC Sham Chemical Disclosure Model Tucked Into Illinois Fracking Bill

Illinois is the next state on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)'s target list for putting the oil industry's interests ahead of the public interest.

98 percent funded by multinational corporations, ALEC is described by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” and a lobbyist-legislator dating service. It brings together corporate lobbyists and right wing politicians to vote up or down on “model bills” written by lobbyists in service to their corporate clientele behind closed doors at its annual meetings.

These “models” snake their way into statehouses nationwide as proposed legislation and quite often become the law of the land. 

Illinois, nicknamed the “Land of Lincoln,” has transformed into the “Land of ALEC” when it comes to a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) regulation bill - HB 2615, the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act - currently under consideration by its House of Representatives. “Fracking” is the toxic horizontal drilling process via which unconventional gas and oil is obtained from shale rock basins across the country and the world.

HB 2615 - proposed on Feb. 21 with 26 co-sponsors - has an ALEC model bill roped within this lengthy piece of legislation: the loophole-ridden Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act.

As covered here on DeSmogBlog, this model bill has been proposed and passed in numerous statehouses to dateIf the bill passes, Illinois' portion of the New Albany Shale basin will be opened up for unfettered fracking, costumed by its industry proponents as the “most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation.“ 

Tue, 2013-01-29 05:00Steve Horn
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Congressmen Supporting LNG Exports Received $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives - 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy's (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers - is in the best economic interests of the United States.  

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories' coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occuring.  

Tue, 2012-12-04 14:41Steve Horn
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ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical fluid disclosure “model bill” was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to “disclosure.”

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept “clueless” as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

Thu, 2012-08-09 15:37Steve Horn
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Was Scott Walker Chosen to Headline Heartland Institute Gala Due to His Bradley Foundation Ties?

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker will keynote the Heartland Institute's 28th Anniversary Benefit Dinner this evening at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL

Walker recently won the Kochtopus-funded Americans for Prosperity George Washington Award. Now, two months after his recall election steamrolling of Democrat Tom Barrett, the climate change denying group famous for its Unabomber billboard will embrace Walker with much fanfare

Heartland, whose internal documents were published this past spring by DeSmogBlog, sings praises for Walker's union-busting agenda and his recent recall victory in promoting the event

This year’s keynote speaker, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is the nation’s most influential and successful governor. Elected in 2010 to balance a budget that was billions of dollars in deficit without raising taxes, he did exactly that, winning the passionate support of taxpayers, business owners, and consumers across the state. After years of economic stagnation caused by high taxes and excessive regulation, Wisconsin is growing again.

To balance the state’s budget, Gov. Walker took on powerful public sector unions, reining in their collective bargaining privileges and requiring that public-sector workers start to contribute toward their retirement and health care benefits. Unions fought back, and after they failed to block legislation implementing Walker’s plan, they tried to recall him in a special election. On June 5, 2012, they failed, as Walker won reelection and a solid mandate to stay his course.

The trove of leaked Heartland documents exposed the Institute's current climate change denying agenda and revealed whose money supports this reality-denying agenda. But DeSmogBlog neglected to talk about the details of “Operation Angry Badger” in the documents, as at the time, we thought it was outside the scope of our mission.

Turns out, we were wrong.

Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

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