Sandra Steingraber's Manifesto: Illinois Fracking Rules a Betrayal of Democracy and Science
By Jeff Biggers
A new salvo has been fired in the national battle against fracking.
Within hours of the Illinois General Assembly's vote on its controversial bill on hydraulic fracking last Friday night, the Associated Press's headline rippled across nationwide newspapers: "Illinois lawmakers approve nation's toughest fracking regulations."
Not so fast, says Dr. Sandra Steingraber, the renowned scientist whom Rolling Stone has called the "toxic avenger." She returned to her native Illinois last week to join a growing citizens uprising against gas drilling and sand mining operations she defines as "an accident-prone, inherently dangerous industrial process with risks that include catastrophic and irremediable damage to our health and environment."
With New York readying to rescind or keep in place that state's temporary moratorium, and high stakes battles taking place across the nation about whether to regulate fracking or place moratoriums on it, Steingraber and a network of citizen groups have viewed Illinois as the staging ground for a fracking rush that will have an extraordinary ripple effect.
Once hailed by the Sierra Club as the "new Rachel Carson," Steingraber denounced Illinois’s bill as "the result of closed-door negotiations between industry representatives and compromise-oriented environmental organizations." She testified in front of a last minute committee hearing of the Illinois House of Representatives, protested with sit-in activists, met with bill negotiators and was even tossed out of the Illinois General Assembly for speaking out.
With Gov. Pat Quinn's signature imminent, Business Insider gushed that Illinois “could become the epicenter of America's next oil boom."
Not under their watch, says Steingraber and the Illinois anti-fracking shock troops.
Issuing a Fracking Manifesto, she has thrown down the gauntlet on Illinois' regulatory fallout as a cautionary tale for citizens groups, environmental organizations and frackers across the nation.
"We call for a mobilization that brings fracking realities to the rest of the nation," the manifesto declares. "If our elected officials refuse to visit the fracking fields, then we will bring the fracking fields to them—in the form of science, stories, photographs, film, lectures, hearings and journalism. If elected officials refuse to defend our land, water, air and health against those who would despoil them for their own profit, then we will do it ourselves, using peaceful, non-violent methods."
A Fracking Manifesto: From Sandra Steingraber and the People of Illinois to the Nation
We know that high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracking, or HVHF, is an accident-prone, inherently dangerous industrial process with risks that include catastrophic and irremediable damage to our health and environment.
We know that HVHF and its attendant technologies:
- contribute to groundwater contamination, including 219 cases in Pennsylvania alone;
- turn massive amounts of fresh, drinkable water into massive amounts of briny, poisonous flowback fluid for which there is no fail-safe disposal solution;
- vent hazardous air pollutants that are associated with cancer, asthma, heart attack, stroke and preterm birth;
- release radioactive substances—including radon, which is the number two cause of lung cancer—and benzene, which is a proven cause of leukemia—from deep geological strata;
- fragment forests in ways that decimate birds and wildlife, sabotage natural flood control systems, and pour sediment into rivers and streams;
- industrialize communities in ways that vastly increase truck traffic, noise pollution, light pollution, stress, crime and the need for emergency services;
- offer jobs that are dangerous, toxic and temporary, with a fatality rate seven times that of other industries; and
- leak prodigious amounts of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas.
We know these problems cannot be prevented by any set of rules or government office, let alone state agencies like those in Illinois, which have been cut to the bone by budget cuts and cannot be counted on for regulatory enforcement.
We have heard the warnings of our brothers and sisters living in the gas fields of Pennsylvania and Ohio, whose children, pets and livestock are sick, whose property values are ruined, whose water is undrinkable.
We have heard the pleas of our neighbors in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, where strip-mining for “frac-sand” has devastated communities, destroyed landscapes and filled the air with carcinogenic silica dust. We are aware that our own beloved Starved Rock State Park is already threatened by industrial mining of silica sand used for fracking operations and that the pressure to strip-mine Illinois for sand will only increase with every well that is drilled and fracked.
We assert that fracking is a moral crisis. In a time of climate emergency, it is wrong to further deepen our dependency on fossil fuels. In a state such as Illinois, where chronic drought and water shortages are already forecast for our children’s future, it is wrong to destroy fresh water resources in order to bring new sources of climate-killing gas and oil out of the ground.
We reject the legitimacy of Illinois’ fracking regulatory bill, which was the result of closed-door negotiations between industry representatives and compromise-oriented environmental organizations. Responsible only to their funders and their members, these environmental groups do not represent us nor are they empowered to negotiate on our behalf. We consider the fracking regulatory bill to be a subversion of both science and democracy. Throughout its creation, no comprehensive health study or environmental impact study was ever commissioned. No public hearings or public comment periods ever took place. And yet it is the public that is being compelled to live with the risks sanctioned by this bill. It is an unjust law.
Knowing that our own government has abdicated its responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of the citizenry, knowing that no one is coming to save us, we declare our intent to save ourselves from the ravages of shale gas and oil extraction via HVHF. We declare our intent to join together in a fracking abolitionist movement.
As such, no longer shall national environmental organizations based far from impacted realities make decisions that will have life-changing impacts on the people living in impacted zones. We will call out organizations that betray core values and integrity. We will openly inform their membership and their funders and reveal the truth of where they stand and at whose expense.
We call for a mobilization that brings fracking realities to the rest of the nation. If our elected officials refuse to visit the fracking fields, then we will bring the fracking fields to them—in the form of science, stories, photographs, film, lectures, hearings and journalism. If elected officials refuse to defend our land, water, air and health against those who would despoil them for their own profit, then we will do it ourselves, using peaceful, nonviolent methods.
We hereby commit ourselves to building a powerful movement that will protect Illinois’s children—and safeguard the living ecosystem on which their lives depend—for generations to come. In short, we declare our intent to take the future into our hands. And that future is unfractured.
Sign on and join our movement.
Dr. Sandra Steingraber
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.