By Benjamin Yount -
SPRINGFIELD — Hydraulic fracturing — fracking as it is known— may, one day, crack apart southern Illinois’ shale deposits. But fracking already has split Illinois’ environmental groups.
On Tuesday, a gaggle of lesser known environmental groups crowded the Illinois Capitol to shout their opposition to legislation that would regulate fracking in the state. The group also shouted down Illinois environmental advocates who support the plan.
“Shame on you!” shouted Susie Ruby, an activist with Illinois People’s Action. “How dare you cooperate with the destroyers of our planet!”
Ruby was scolding Illinois’ well-known environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Illinois Environmental Council for cooperating with fracking supporters and the oil and natural gas industries. As Ruby shouted, members of the crowd echoed “sell out” or “follow the money.”
Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said that kind of talk hurts.
“I can’t say those criticisms don’t sting,” Walling said after the statehouse protest. “But I can say those criticisms are not true.”
Walling said mainstream environmental groups see the fracking legislation as the best way to make sure environmental regulations are in place when fracking comes to Illinois.
“We look at the situation and we see the political reality,” Waling said. “We are backing a plan that will protect the environment the most.”
Rich Whitney, a southern Illinois environmental activist and former Green Party candidate for governor, said the “upper level” environmental groups made a deal for “half a loaf, but will only get crumbs.”
Whitney wanted a moratorium on fracking, if not a total ban.
Walling said fracking already has a clear path in Illinois, so it is a matter of when, not if, work will begin.
She said the split between environmental groups is between the established “environmental coalition” and the “activists and occupy groups.”
But if Illinois’ environmental groups cannot agree on the state’s fracking legislation, how can voters know what to think?
“You have to look at who is saying what,” said state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville. “I see the potential for the number of jobs that will come to our region. We have an obligation to create jobs.”
Southern Illinois’ unemployment is anywhere between 7 percent and 11 percent, according to state Rep. Brandon Phelps, Harrisburg. December numbers from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the most recent data available, lists unemployment in southern Illinois between 8.3 percent and 9.3 percent. The state’s unemployment rate in January was 9 percent.
“I got a lot of coal mines that shut down in my district,” Phelps said of his far southern Illinois region. “Fracking could be the boom we have been waiting for.”
Both Phelps and Hoffman say the environmentalists they have spoken with back the proposed legislation.
“The environmentalists elect their leaders,” Phelps said. “If there was something wrong with this, wouldn’t they be against it?”
The proposed fracking regulations have been introduced in the Illinois House, but have yet to get a legislative hearing.First published on Illinois Watchdog