Illinois is facing an extraction crisis. Expanded coal mining and the looming threat of fracking will create an unprecedented two-pronged threat to southern and central Illinois. Grassroots groups on the front lines of the extraction crisis raised the alarm in a letter to the Illinois General Assembly.
The letter calls for an environmental justice agenda to build a new energy economy in downstate Illinois:
2) Establish a coalfields regeneration fund that will target green job growth to areas that have been historically damaged and impoverished by coal, oil and gas.
3) Overhaul broken state regulatory agencies.
4) End state fossil fuel subsidies and the promotion of new coal exports.
There's an old political tradition in Illinois of politicians pandering to environmentalists in Chicago and to the coal industry downstate. Convicted ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich mastered the game by heavily subsidizing coal while keeping environmental groups pacified with new air quality laws, efficiency standards, and support for renewable energy. Subsidies to promote fossil fuels as an economic development tool keep rural Illinois focused on short-term, destructive jobs while most green job creation happens in the northern half of the state.
The old game is changing as people in coal and fracking regions are demanding better protections of their health, land, and water. The threat posed by a fracking has reinvigorated the movement to attract jobs that don't destroy the economic and social infrastructure of our communities. Southern and central Illinois residents are done with being sacrifice zones where politicians make easy compromises.
James Hansen and other leading climate scientists have warned that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground in order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. For downstate Illinois, that will include more frequent extreme flooding along rivers, reduction in crop yield for farmers, and worsening drought.
Illinois cannot afford to ignore the deadly consequences of increasing fossil fuel expansion. Environmentalists cannot afford to remain silent as Pat Quinn launches a dirty energy disaster.
The full text of the call to action follows. It was developed by grassroots downstate groups with statewide organizations signing on in support.
Illinois Must Act to Stop Extraction Crisis
"Illinois is facing an unprecedented environmental, social and economic crisis. The anticipated launch of industrialized fracking combined with resurgence in coal mining present a double threat to the people, land, water, and long term economic health of southern and central Illinois.
Illinois coal mining has increased 70 percent in Illinois since 2010 thanks to an increase in coal exports, widespread use of scrubbers to accommodate high sulfur coal, and the reduction of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that Illinois' weak fracking law will not adequately protect the public. Leading climate scientists have warned we must leave much of the world's remaining fossil fuel resources in the ground to avoid additional catastrophic consequences of climate change, such as record drought and flooding. The acceleration of fossil fuel extraction in Illinois exacerbates both a local and global crisis. State government must act:
Southern and central Illinois must not become a sacrifice zone to a dirty energy policy that will contribute significantly to climate change. Volume limits and other loop-holes will result in an unknown number of wells being exempt from regulation. Even if every provision of the current fracking law is enforced, people and the environment will not be adequately protected. Fracking must be banned.
Create a New Energy Economy in Coal Country
Coal country needs a bailout. Most clean energy jobs are being created in the northern half of Illinois, leaving the rest of the state behind. Downstate deserves more than dangerous, temporary fracking jobs, and empty promises about reviving the coal industry. Establish a coalfields regeneration fund to build a new energy economy targeted to areas left in poverty by boom and bust extraction cycles. We want a future with clean energy jobs like those being created in Iowa and California; not a future as an impoverished sacrifice zone like West Virginia or Wyoming coalfields.
Overhaul Regulatory Agencies
Years of lax enforcement, waived penalties, few inspectors, and recent staff scandals have undermined confidence that the Department of Natural Resources or Illinois EPA can effectively regulate mining and industrialized fracking. Additional funding to hire new staff will not change the institutional culture of agencies that have been unwilling to adequately protect public health. DNR and IEPA must be dramatically reformed or responsibility handed over to federal oversight.
End Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Coal Export Expansion
A report by Downstream Strategies found that the the coal industry costs the Illinois state budget roughly $20 million annually. Illinois must stop subsidizing a devastating industry that will never again provide the jobs it once did. Everyone loses when Illinois promotes coal exports to foreign nations with weak pollution laws. People in developing countries will suffer increased rates of lung disease, heart disease, birth defects, and other health impacts. Illinois suffers the consequences of poorly regulated coal mining. The global community will suffer the impact of climate change. Illinois must end its policy of subsidizing coal through state grants and expanding export infrastructure.
Signed: Buckminster Fuller Future Organization, Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Citizens Act to Protect Our Water (CAPOW!), Eco-Justice Collaborative, Friends of Bell Smith Springs, Gaia House Interfaith Center, Heartwood Forest Alliance, Indiana Forest Alliance, Justice for Rocky Branch, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Nuclear Energy Information Service, S.E.N.S.E. (SIUC Students), Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists (RACE), Rising Tide Chicago, Shawnee Hills and Hollers, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE), Students for Environmental Concerns (UIUC Students), Sustainable Springfield Inc, Tar Sands Free Midwest"