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FrackGate Comes to Illinois? Media Blackout on Fracking Vote
As the national media puts the spotlight on the "FrackGate" public relations scandal in Ohio, where state officials worked to “marginalize opponents of fracking by teaming up with corporations—including Halliburton—business groups and media outlets," Illinois residents behind a ballot initiative to ban fracking in rural Johnson County are facing a similar campaign of misinformation and local news blackout.
It's bad enough that Illinois' flawed state fracking regulations have spiraled into a widely denounced phase of disarray and confusion.
Until last Friday, the Vienna Times/Goreville Gazette newspaper company, the only local newspapers in Johnson County's treasured Shawnee National Forest heartland, had provided fairly balanced coverage of the fracking debate, including the county commissioners' decision last May to support a one-year moratorium on the controversial fracking process, as out-of-state corporations like Kansas-based Woolsey Energy swept up land leases.
Two of the three Johnson County commissioners, in fact, had encouraged residents last fall to draw up their own "simple" ballot initiative to gauge the "will of the people."
Sounds reasonable and democratic, no?
But now, with the same local citizens group's non-binding ballot initiative gaining widespread support across the county from residents especially concerned about the threat of involuntary "forced pooling" from neighboring leases, the Vienna Times/Goreville Gazette has suddenly announced—according to local residents—a new policy to refuse all anti-fracking ads, letters to the editor or news releases, even as it accepts ads and press releases from an Orwellian campaign set up to dismiss the community rights-driven campaign against absentee fracking corporations as a "radical agenda of out-of-state interests."
Since when are local farmers called "out-of-state" and absentee fracking corporations considered homeboys?
And since when has this ad become too dangerous for the Vienna Times?
Instead, featuring Shawnee Professional Services president Mitch Garrett and Johnson County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw—who had originally voted for the one-year moratorium and asked for public input—the Vienna Times/Goreville Gazette celebrated the kick-off of an opposition group to the county citizens initiative on its front page this week, and included an ad with a direct link to opposition's Facebook page:
Two years ago, Vienna Times publisher Lonnie Hinton and Shawnee Professional
Service owner Mitch Garrett worked together on another hot issue: Ridding the town of stray cats.
And now, what about what the fracking cats about about to drag in? As in debunked and clearly exaggerated job promises, and the onslaught of the well-documented fracking reality of industrial traffic, workplace accidents and injuries, massive amounts of pollution and toxic discharges risking public health and potential earthquakes?
"I’ve never quite grasped how much power the oil and gas industry has until now. What they are doing to manipulate the vote makes me angry and sad. And, what industry has not begun to understand is that there are plenty of us, and more all the time who will never, never give up," said Annette McMichael, communications director for the Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment citizens groups, and a resident and landowner in Johnson County.
"The best way to have discussion is in open dialogue, solved in an equal and democratic fashion," said Johnson County vegetable farmer Kris Pirmann, who is active in the community rights ballot initiative. "Open discourse is the only legitimate and democratic way, and shutting down one side is not open discourse."
Not so, says the local media. The Vienna Times/Goreville Gazette failed to answer multiple queries about its new policies. But local residents noted a new sign at the newspaper office, with a warning signed by Vienna Times publisher Hinton: "We reserve the right to accept or reject material submitted for publication, including letters to the editor, news releases and advertising."
Here's the ballot initiative, drawn up by local Johnson County residents and southern Illinois native and resident Natalie Long, a community organizer with theCommunity Environmental Legal Defense Fund:
Long adds: "A Community Bill of Rights is a community-tailored document. It's made up of two main parts: 1) a section that asserts the rights of the community, including the right to local self-governance, the right to clean air, and the right to clean water; and 2) an enumeration of activities that violate those rights, and therefore are prohibited in the community. Because a Community Bill of Rights is drafted with each particular community, that means that no two documents are the same. Instead, they reflect the priorities of the community. In this case, Johnson County citizens are hard at working crafting language that focuses specifically on prohibiting hydraulic fracturing—nothing else. Any claim otherwise is both misguided and false."
Only days away from the March 18th ballot vote, Johnson County residents are not giving up on the local news media black out, or the political games from out-of-state industry sycophants. Redoubling their efforts, Johnson County residents are stepping up grassroots efforts and seeking funds to place the ads in regional newspapers.
"It appears we don't have avenue to voice our concerns," Pirmann said. "They just want us to be quiet and go away. But we're Johnson County residents and we're going to talk to Johnson County residents face-to-face, in a democratic fashion, and voice our opinions to protect our land and farms."
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.