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Illinois Fracking Bill Contains Industry-Friendly ALEC Language
By Steve Horn
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.
Ninety-eight 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.
This model bill has been proposed and passed in numerous statehouses to date. If 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."
"If At First You Don't Succeed, Dust Yourself Off and Try Again"
This isn't ALEC's first fracking-related crack at getting a model bill passed in Illinois. In 2012, the Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act—introduced as SB 3280—passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate but never passed the House.
SB 3280 isn't merely an ALEC model, but is a Council of State Government's (CSG) model, too.
The "disclosure" standards' origins lay in the Obama Department of Energy's (DOE) industry-stacked fracking subcomittee, formed in May 2011 "to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health."
As exposed by The New York Times in April 2012, these "disclosure" standards were originally written by ExxonMobil, first passed in Texas in June 2011, and now serve as both an ALEC and CSG model bill for the states. I say "disclosure"—as opposed to disclosure—because the bill includes loopholes for "trade secrets," ala the "Halliburton Loophole" written into the industry-friendly federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Section 77 of HB 2615, titled "Chemical disclosure; trade secret protection," also includes the same trade secrets exemption from the ALEC/CSG ExxonMobil-written model bill.
The FracFocus Façade
The oil and gas industry has chosen FracFocus as the entity to oversee the chemical disclosure process. An August investigation by Bloomberg News revealed that FracFocus offers the façade of disclosure while the industry tramples roughshod over communities nationwide.
"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."
In reality, FracFocus is a public relations front for the oil and gas industry, as we reported in Dec. 2012, explaining,
FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy and American Clean Skies Foundation—a front group for Chesapeake Energy.
Another Nov. 2012 Bloomberg investigation revealed that oil and gas corporations "claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to its analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.
Cosponsors Tied to ALEC, CSG
Five of the 26 Illinois House cosponsors are ALEC members: Reps. David Reis (R-119), Mike Fortner (R-95), Jil Tracy (R-93), Dennis Reboletti (R-97) and Patricia Bellock (R-94).
Further, three more cosponsors have ties to CSG. Rep. Ann Williams (D-11) and Rep. Pam Roth (R-75) both attended CSG Midwest's 2012 Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development (BILLD). Two of the sponsors of BILLD in 2012 included BP America and Enbridge Energy. Another, Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-97), is a 2005 CSG Midwest BILLD alumni.
The bipartisan "group of 26" took a total of $53,060 before the Nov. 2012 election, data collected from the National Institute on Money in State Politics shows.
How Will IL Regulate Fracking with 12 Inspectors?
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's 2012 budget included Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cuts to the tune of 13.5 percent for fiscal year 2013. The DNR is the regulatory body tasked to referee the fracking process under HB 2615, an agency which in the past decade has lost over half of its budget.
"Our agency has essentially been cut in half over the last decade. There are a lot of ramifications...You're going to see a noticeable difference in the maintenance. It won't be the fault of the people that work for us," DNR Director Marc Miller said at a Feb. 2012 public forum in a foreshadowing manner. "It will be because we don't have the resources."
There are 12 inspectors in IL to oversee fracking regulation enforcement, among myriad other regulatory duties, down from 28 in 2005, as revealed in a recent Freedom of Information Act conducted by ProPublica.
"What we are looking for is a sustainable solution," Miller said at the public forum. "We want to get to the point of having revenue we can count on to plan and to be able to do the programs we're supposed to do for the public."
Yet Miller believes more DNR cuts from Quinn are in the works in forthcoming budgets.
Earthworks pointed out in a Sept. 2011 report, Breaking All the Rules: the Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement, that numerous states—akin to Illinois—are vastly understaffed, underfunded and unable to do their jobs to protect the public. Predictably, this has led to under-enforcement, lending the oil and gas industry a free pass to contaminate without accountability.
And even with enforcement, Earthworks pointed out that because the penalties for breaking the law are so minimal, the industry simply passes this off as a tiny "cost of doing business."
Bill Endorsed by Sierra Club/NRDC
Despite this reality, two major green NGOs—the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—have come out in cautious support of the bill.
"NRDC is working to transition as quickly as possible to a clean energy future based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, but as long as we have to have dirty fossil fuels, our communities need the strongest rules in place," NRDC's Henry Henderson wrote in a blog post, offering the important caveat that "Those rules are only as good as their enforcement, which needs to be robust and strict. And that is another issue that we will be following if this bill moves forward."
No concerns are raised about Section 25 of the bill dealing with setbacks and prohibitions.
This section lends the industry the ability to conduct fracking operations within 1,500 feet of groundwater sources and 500 feet of schools, houses, hospitals, nursing homes and places of worship. It also enables the industry to frack within 300 feet of rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
These regulations do not take into account the fact that the horizontal drilling portion of the fracking process extends between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. The sobering reality: none of these things would be protected under this bill's current language.
Sierra Club, which came under fire last year for taking $26 million from gas giant Chesapeake Energy to fight against coal, sang a similar tune.
"We may not be able to decide whether fracking comes to Illinois, but we absolutely must decide to make sure we are as protected as we can be," Sierra Club's Jack Darin concluded on The Huffington Post, despite the fact that fracking has yet to begin in the state.
Other Groups Call for a Moratorium, Support Alternative Bill
That effort is being led by the Illinois Coalition For A Moratorium on Fracking, whose members include Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), MoveOn.org Illinois, Progressive Demcrats of America (PDA) Chicago and Illinois, Stop the Frack Attack on IL, Rising Tide and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Chicago.
"The moratorium will allow two years for a science-based investigative task force to look at current and ongoing studies on fracking," the Coaliton's press release in support of SB 1418 reads. "As new research continues to uncover more harmful effects of high-volume fracturing, both in the surrounding area and to the climate, ICMF, SAFE and many other environmental organizations are committed to supporting studies on the procedure."
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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