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Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

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The three Democrats running in Illinois' 13th Congressional district primary recently answered my questions about climate change and energy issues. It's one of the hottest Congressional races in the nation since freshman incumbent Republican Rodney Davis narrowly won with merely 46.5% of the vote in 2012.

The central Illinois district is a complicated place to talk energy. Coal mining is no longer a major employer, but the industry still wields social and political influence beyond its economic impact. It contains the resting places of the two most significant coal mine union organizers in American history, Mother Jones and John L. Lewis. It's also a farming district with agribusiness giant ADM based (for now) in Decatur. The metro-east St. Louis region is a center for refineries.

The 13th district also includes over a dozen colleges with young and educated voters increasingly concerned about climate change as the urgent crisis of our time. Environmentalists are organizing to become a bigger political player, particularly in response to the threat of increased coal mining and fracking.

All three Democratic candidates agree on the need to address climate change, promote clean energy, and protect the public from the negative impacts on fracking. Their responses reveal where they differ on details.

The Gollin and Callis campaigns asked for questions in writing. What follows are their responses in full.

First, George Gollin's response:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: The scientific evidence for climate change is strong and alarming. It demands our immediate and continuing attention: we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change poses an existential threat to our civilization, and it is irresponsible of Mr. Davis to pretend that this is not the case.

Q: Do you have a preference for how Congress should tackle the climate crisis, such as cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, more stimulus spending on clean energy and conservation, or another approach?

A: The problem needs to be attacked simultaneously from many different directions. I support a carbon tax, as well as a crash program to further develop solar, wind, and fusion energy sources. I also support addressing the problem of radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel from conventional fission reactors using "accelerator driven subcritical fission transmutation," which shortens the cool-down time of the spent reactor fuel by a factor of one hundred, while releasing substantial amounts of usable energy.

Q:Do you support ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including President Obama's call to eliminate oil subsidies?

A: I support ending subsidies.

Q: Several studies have brought the climate change benefits of natural gas into question due to methane leaks. Do you see natural gas a solution to climate change and how would you address the environmental threats of fracking proposed in Illinois?

A: I am glad that we are using more natural gas and less coal to generate electricity--this reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem of methane leakage is worrisome, and in need of constant oversight and tough regulation. I do understand the economic benefits of producing energy at home.

This is a perfect example of why we need more scientists in Congress. I don't think we know enough about fracking, and I think that's partly on purpose. I will push for legislation to require all fracking operations to disclose in advance the chemicals and other substances pumped into the ground, and to require continuous testing of groundwater, and publication of the test results.

I will also call on the National Academies of Science and Engineering to make a comprehensive study of the state of the science on the seismic and environmental risks of fracking. The study would yield a definitive report on the reliability of the geology and other analyses used to determine the risks of fracking, including how realistically we can assess the risks of groundwater contamination, induced seismicity, methane leakage from well heads, and--perhaps most importantly--how well fracking operations can be regulated in the face of a Republican Party which will try to cripple oversight by withdrawing funding for regulatory agencies.

If the conclusion is that the safety of fracking operations cannot be firmly established, or maintained in a hostile political environment, then I would immediately cosponsor legislation to ban fracking. And even if the NAS concludes that it can be done safely, I would cosponsor legislation requiring full disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids, and the results of pre- and post-fracking water assays. I would also sponsor legislation requiring the termination of fracking operations should regulatory oversight become inadequate because of funding cuts. I would sponsor legislation requiring a fracking operator to pay the costs of enforcing regulation, and the costs of mitigating any environmental problems attributable to fracking.

If careful, honest scientific analysis shows that we cannot prove that fracking is safe, then we should ban it. Let's get the science figured out.

Next, the response from Ann Callis.

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: I believe in the vast scientific evidence that man-made pollution is contributing to climate change. This winter has shown us the volatility of our current weather, and by looking at 30 year trends there is no denying the rapidly changing environment. I will work to preserve our natural resources and protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must leave our world in a better place for future generations, and that starts with reducing pollution.

Q: Do you have a preference for how Congress should tackle the climate crisis, such as cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, more stimulus spending on clean energy and conservation, or another approach?

A: I think our district has a unique ability to be a leader in biofuels and green technology, which both help us tackle climate change. We need to create tax incentives to foster this economic growth. With our great agriculture sector, we can be a regional leader on creating new biofuel products. I also see opportunities for us to grow on the wonderful research happening on our campuses and connect researchers with local labor forces to create highly technologically sound jobs right here in our district that manufactures green products like wind turbines and solar panels.

Q: Do you support ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including President Obama's call to eliminate oil subsidies?

A: I think we need to move away from being so dependent on foreign oil. Instead of giving tax breaks to big oil companies, I'd rather see tax incentives go towards creating jobs in our country that can't be outsourced, like manufacturing green products.

Q: Several studies have brought the climate change benefits of natural gas into question due to methane leaks. Do you see natural gas a solution to climate change and how would you address the environmental threats of fracking proposed in Illinois?

A: I want to see more studies on the impact of natural gas. I think we should always be very careful with how we balance creating jobs and saving our environment, and believe we can do both successfully. As for fracking, if it is even allowed, we need to ensure there are tough regulations in place at the federal level to monitor the environmental impacts and hold anyone accountable who is causing environmental damage.

David Green called to talk over the phone. It was a long, conversational interview so I've attempted to summarize his main points on the same questions I asked other candidates.

Green said we have to trust the 99% of scientists who claim climate change is real. It seems outlandish not to see it as being man-made. He listens to scientists and leaders like Bill McKibben. We have to act very fast to create a post-fossil fuel economy because it's a species threatening issue.

He supports a carbon tax and worries cap-and-trade will become an ineffective corporate rip off. We should tax things to reflect the level of damage done to the environment. We need to immediately pour enormous amounts of money into conservation, renewables, electric vehicles, public transit etc.

Green spoke in favor of a ban on fracking at a public hearing in Decatur. A statement on his website criticizes politicians and organizations who supported the Illinois fracking law. It says, "severe environmental degradation, leading to water pollution and other chemical threats to public health, are the inevitable outcomes of fracking on the intense level that it is now being done in Pennsylvania, and will be done in Illinois." He criticized Gollin's call for more research by saying he researched the issue before running for Congress.

Green admits he isn't an expert on environmental issues but has been learning more. He approaches issues from a social justice perspective so environmental justice is central to his viewpoint.

Although it will be unpopular with some in the district, Green supports moving away from industrialized agribusiness toward more localized, regional, organic farming. He criticized Callis' support for biofuels as being too vague, likely to cause new problems, and unlikely to provide a large-scale solution.

Thanks to all three candidates for responding! If you have follow up questions, try to catch them at public events before the March 18 election. If climate change and the environment are a priority to you, it's important to let candidates know.