Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jeff Biggers: FrackGate Comes to Illinois? Media Blackout on Fracking Vote in Johnson County

by Jeff Biggers, EcoWatch, February 26, 2014

jbiggersAs 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 agoVienna 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 McMichaels, 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 the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund: 

“Shall the people’s right to local self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health, safety, and a clean environment?”
“This ballot initiative is led by a local group of people of common concerns, Johnson County resident, many who are third or fourth generation farmers,” said Pirmann, the Johnson County vegetable farmer, who noted that more than 1,000 county residents signed a petition for the ballot. “The argument that this initiative is hijacked from the outside doesn’t hold any water.”

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.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Methane leaks from frack pad installations

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is escaping in vast volumes from oil and gas fields in the United States, Russia and other countries. The fracking rush in shale-gas country has amplified the threat. Some companies have found that investments in capturing the emissions quickly pay off in sales of the fuel.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Midwest to suffer from heat waves, flooding, drought and more intense storms due to climate change

Heat Waves, Storms, Flooding: Climate Change to Profoundly Affect U.S. Midwest in Coming Decades

A flooded urban street. (Credit: Don Becker, USGS)

January 18, 2013 — In the coming decades, climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated. 

Those are some of the conclusions contained in the Midwest chapter of a draft report released last week by the federal government that assesses the key impacts of climate change on every region in the country and analyzes its likely effects on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, ecosystems and biodiversity.

Three University of Michigan researchers were lead convening authors of chapters in the 1,100-plus-page National Climate Assessment, which was written by a team of more than 240 scientists.

University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia was a lead convening author of the Midwest chapter. Dan Brown of the School of Natural Resources and Environment was a lead convening author of the chapter on changes in land use and land cover. Rosina Bierbaum of SNRE and the School of Public Health was a lead convening author of the chapter on climate change adaptation. Missy Stults, a research assistant with Bierbaum and a doctoral student at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, was a contributing author on the adaptation chapter.

In addition, Bierbaum and Marie O'Neill of the School of Public Health serve on the 60-person advisory committee that oversaw development of the draft report, which is the third federal climate assessment report since 2000. The report stresses that climate change is already affecting Americans, that many of its impacts are expected to intensify in coming decades, and that the changes are primarily driven by human activity.

"Climate change impacts in the Midwest are expected to be as diverse as the landscape itself. Impacts are already being felt in the forests, in agriculture, in the Great Lakes and in our urban centers," said Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and special counsel to the U-M president on sustainability issues.

In the Midwest, extreme rainfall events and floods have become more common over the last century, and those trends are expected to continue, causing erosion, declining water quality and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health and infrastructure, according to the report.

Climate change will likely worsen a host of existing problems in the Great Lakes, including changes in the range and distribution of important commercial and recreational fish species, increases in invasive species, declining beach health, and more frequent harmful algae blooms.

However, declines in ice cover on the Great Lakes may lengthen the commercial shipping season.

In agriculture, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels are likely to increase the yields of some Midwest crops over the next few decades, according to the report, though those gains will be increasingly offset by the more frequent occurrence of heat waves, droughts and floods. In the long term, combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity in the Midwest.

The composition of the region's forests is expected to change as rising temperatures drive habitats for many tree species northward. Many iconic tree species such as paper birch, quaking aspen, balsam fir and black spruce are projected to shift out of the United States into Canada.

The rate of warming in the Midwest has accelerated over the past few decades, according to the report. Between 1900 and 2010, the average Midwest air temperature increased by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit. However, between 1950 and 2010, the average temperature increased twice as quickly, and between 1980 and 2010 it increased three times as quickly.

The warming has been more rapid at night and during the winter. The trends are consistent with the projected effects of increased concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Projections for regionally averaged temperature increases by the middle of the century, relative to 1979-2000, are approximately 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit for a scenario with substantial emissions reductions and 4.9 degrees for the current high-emissions scenario. Projections for the end of the century in the Midwest are about 5.6 degrees for the low-emissions scenario and 8.5 degrees for the high-emissions scenario, according to the report.

The draft National Climate Assessment report is available at A summary of associated technical input papers is available at

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Richard Fedder: Take Back This Land for You and Me

(In memory of Woody Guthrie)
(New lyrics by Richard Fedder)

As I was hiking and they were drilling
And the sun was shining while the corn was wilting
I made a promise we’re all fulfilling
Take back this land for you and me!

Chorus 1:  
          This land is your land, this land is my land
          From the Shawnee Forest to the southern wetlands.
          From the Wabash River to the Mis-sis-si-ip-pi
          This land belongs to you and me.

In the depths they fracture the shale formations
And claim the bedrock of our proud nation
But up above them, they don’t own nothing
This (whole!) land belongs to you and me.

Chorus 2:   
          This land is your land, this land is my land
          From the Shawnee Forest to the northern tar sands
          From the Hudson Valley to the Texas prairie 
          This land belongs to you and me.

In the forest bottoms, a deer was drinking
As an uncapped well-head was slowly leaking
And the poisoned waters set me to thinking:
Wasn’t this land made for you and me?
Chorus 3:   
          Stop fracking on your land, stop fracking on my land
          From California to the New York Islands
          From the redwood forests to the Gulfstream waters
          Take back this land for you and me!
          Take back this land for you and me.

Posted with permission of Richard Fedder.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

23 Largest Wind Farms In Illinois Bring $6 Billion In Economic Benefits To The State

23 Largest Wind Farms In Illinois Bring $6 Billion In Economic Benefits To The State

Mitt Romney’s campaign says the candidate supports ending the production tax credit for wind — even while supporting billions in tax credits for the Big Five oil companies. Some are now wondering if Romney’s stance on wind will hurt him in the Midwest, where the technology has has such a positive economic impact.
new report released by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University (ISU) shows why wind is so important to America’s heartland.
The report looked at the 23 largest wind farms in Illinois, finding that they will add almost $6 billion to local economies over their lifetimes and have resulted in the creation of more than 19,000 jobs during the construction periods. The projects will also support 814 permanent jobs in the state.
The report’s authors conclude that these benefits would not be possible without consistent federal and state policy:
A number of factors have caused the rapid growth of wind power capacity in the United States in recent years including federal and state policies… In particular, federal renewable energy production tax credits (PTC) along with state renewable electricity standards (RES) have been the biggest drivers.
The economic analysis details how wind farms benefit landowners, local governments, and school districts.
Dr. Larry Dodds, Superintendent of Ridgeview School District in McLean County, IL, said while the state government had to cut the school district’s budget by almost $750,000 over three years, the wind farms have significantly contributed to the county’s $1.8 million FY2011 tax revenue.
This economic analysis shows once again why Congress needs to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) due to expire at the end of the year.
Wind energy has been increasing in Illinois and across the country. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 35% of all new U.S. power capacity in the past five years has been from wind power — bringing $20 billion in annual private investment. Yet, Congress is set to let the PTC expire and possibly kill up to 37,000 jobs.
The uncertainty around the PTC is already causing turmoil within the wind industry. Last week, General Electric – the largest U.S. producer of wind turbines – blamed a decrease in sales this past quarter on Congress’ inability to extend the PTC. And the world’s largest producer of wind turbines, Vestas, says it may lay off 1,600 American workers if the credit is not extended.
Matt Kasper is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

End Polluter Subsidies!

End Polluter Subsidies!

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison launched a new piece of legislation that would repeal $113 billion of tax-breaks, handouts, and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the next 10 years.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois would swap fragile forest wet lands with Peabody Energy in violation of the Endangered Species Act

Faustian Bargain: Proposal Seeks to Swap National Forest Land for Strip Mining

Shawnee National Forest would swap lands with Peabody Energy

by Common Dreams staff, January 30, 2012
A proposal to swap land from the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois to Peabody Energy has conservationists up in arms.
The Harrisburg, IL,  Daily Register describes the deal this way:Shawnee National Forest (photo: christina rutz)
Ron Scott of the U.S. Forest Service said one parcel of land owned by the federal government has minerals that Peabody desires. Peabody's subsidiary, American Land Holdings of Illinois, spoke with the Forest Service regarding available lands the agency desired that adjoined other Forest Service properties and purchased those with the intent of trading for the piece of federal property. That federal property is 384 acres on both sides of the Saline River in Gallatin County 2 miles west of the Ohio River.
The Forest Service would receive a 481-acre parcel in Pope County north of Lusk Creek, 80 acres in Pope County within the Lusk Creek Wilderness Area surrounding Little Lusk Creek and 270 acres in Jackson County between Fountain Bluff and the Mississippi River. The Forest Service would receive half the mineral rights of the 481-acre parcel where there are no desirable minerals, but no mineral rights on the other two parcels where there are also no desirable minerals, Scott said.
Peabody's goal? Strip-mining for coal.
Conservationists are not happy about the proposal. The Daily Register reports:
Barney Bush of the Vinyard Indian Settlement in Herod said he is in opposition to the plan because he does not want further strip mining in the region. [...]
"Nothing good comes out of a strip mine." [...]
Brian Perbix of the Prairie Rivers Network said his river conservation organization is concerned about a future strip mine's effect on the purity of the river ecosystem.
Perbix said he toured the federal property earlier in the day and is concerned about 50 to 70 acres of forest wetland there.
"It was recognized in the 2006 Forest Plan there was a focus on preserving clean water as well as habitat," Perbix said.
And The Southern Illinoisan offers this succinct take:
"This is by and far the dumbest and worst thing they've ever proposed," said Chairman Jim Bensman of the Sierra Club's Shawnee National Forest Committee. "This exchange is clearly a violation of the Endangered Species Act."
The endangered species in question is the Indiana bat.Hibernating Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) (photo: USFWS/Ann Froschauer)
Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Cluboppose the deal and have filed a notice of intent to sue the Forest Service today for failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Swapping away the homes of endangered bats so that a coal company can strip mine them is unconscionable,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Just two weeks ago, the federal government issued the staggering news that nearly 7 million bats have died over just the past few years from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has been spreading across the country like wildfire, wiping out bats from Nova Scotia to Tennessee. Now the Forest Service proposes to intentionally put bats in harm’s way?”
Said Jim Bensman, chair of the Sierra Club's Shawnee National Forest Committee: “The Forest Service has a legal obligation to make protection of endangered species a top priority. When the agency found out last summer there were Indiana bats and gray bats on the land, its first move should have been to safeguard that habitat, not move forward with a plan with Peabody to have it strip-mined.”
The Shawnee National Forest is still taking comments on the proposal until tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Graph of Storm Events in Iowa over Time: Now 6 Times More Frequent than they were in the 1980s

Graph of Storm Events in Iowa over Time

Here is a graph of storm data gleaned from the NOAA National Climatic Data Center (U.S. Department of Commerce). What this graph obviously shows is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a fringe left-wing organization using taxpayer money to say that the sky is falling because they are anti-business and hate America…Right?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Resistant weeds leave farmers desperate. As effectiveness of Monsanto's Roundup wanes, some try mixtures of older, more toxic chemicals, others pay itinerant workers to weed by hand

Resistant weeds leave farmers desperate 
As effectiveness of Monsanto's Roundup wanes, some try mixtures of older, more toxic chemicals, others pay itinerant workers to weed by hand

by Georgina Gusten, St. Louis Post Dispatch, July 17, 2011

Farmers in the state's south are resorting to some old-fashioned tactics.

Weeds in cotton fields have gotten so tenacious — some with stems 4-inches around — that farmers are paying itinerant crews to chop them down by hand.

"In the Bootheel they're hiring people to go out there with hoes," said Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. "I swung a hoe for 15 years, and I fail to see the romance in it."

The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is getting worse: Weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to Monsanto's Roundup, sold generically as glyphosate, forcing farmers to use other herbicides or "multiple modes of action." But during this season especially farmers are finding that these other modes of action aren't working either — and there appears to be little relief on the horizon. In Missouri, herbicide dealers have sold out of Cobra, one of the herbicides most widely used in tandem with glyphosate.

"Are they running out of options?" asked Aaron Hager, a weed scientist with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The simple answer is yes."

Farmers across the Midwest and South are, increasingly, using herbicide cocktails to combat weeds in cotton, corn and soybean fields.

"They're using about every bullet they have in their gun," said Derek Samples, a dealer with Agro Distribution in Portageville, about 150 miles south of St. Louis. "It's just been a nasty year."

That worries environmental scientists who say these combinations employ older, more toxic herbicides that glyphosate was marketed to replace. In some areas of the state, certain weeds have become resistant to three herbicides. In Illinois, some weeds have become resistant to four.

"It's rather ironic that we were sold glyphosate as an alternative to these older pesticides, and now farmers are using them again," said Brett Lorenzen, a legal analyst with the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group. "But that's part of the pattern of the pesticide industry."

Farmers say they're frustrated, not least because these additional herbicides and strategies are costing them profits. They admit, however, that commodity prices are high enough to justify the additional expenditure.

"It's easily costing $30 an acre for the hand weeding, and the pre-emergence herbicides are costing $10 and $20 an acre," said Tom Jennings, who farms cotton, rice, soy and corn near Sikeston. "If we see the markets drop back down, the economics are going to get a lot more difficult. As high as it is, we can afford some hand labor."

Over the past 15 years glyphosate has become a ubiquitous product on American farms. Its rise has coincided with unprecedented crop yields and profits for farmers and has helped propel Creve Coeur-based Monsanto into the world's most dominant seed maker.

But reliance on glyphosate, scientists say, has led to an explosion in weeds that are genetically adapting to withstand its application. These weeds adapt faster and more vigorously than their weed cousins, choking fields and clogging irrigation ditches so badly water can't pass through.

"Pollen can transfer the resistant trait; that's the problem," said Kevin Bradley, a weed scientist with the University of Missouri. "There's not much we can do about pollen flying through the air, and that's why we see such rapid spread of resistance."

In recent years, Monsanto has slashed prices, offered rebates to farmers and given incentives to buy other herbicides, even those of the company's competitors. The company has acknowledged the situation and admitted that, perhaps, it could have more aggressively worked to get the message out about alternative strategies. Farmers, too, have accepted some of the blame.

"It was so effective and so cheap compared to everything else, that's all you used," Jennings said. "Now we have problems out here and we don't have new herbicides. Before Roundup you had a new product every two or three years. Almost all the new products are just combinations of old products. There's no new chemistry."

Critics of the industry point out that Monsanto and its competitors have known about glyphosate resistance since the mid-1990s, when crops genetically engineered to withstand its application first hit the market. They say the companies should have more clearly warned about over-reliance on glyphosate sooner. Government-required labels urged farmers to use other herbicides in conjunction with glyphosate, but these suggestions were tucked away in fine print.

"It's hard to read a 54-page booklet," Lorenzen said. "Monsanto has been saying don't just use glyphosate, but farmers don't have time to read the label."

Lorenzen and other industry critics worry that the new herbicide cocktails farmers are using haven't been tested. The Environmental Protection Agency reviews individual herbicides, not combinations. "Nobody tests what happens when all those chemicals are combined together," he said. "Nobody knows."

Analysts, too, worry that the problem could hit profits.

"They've taken a big hit with [Roundup] already," said Jeff Windau, an analyst with Edward Jones. "So moving forward there could be more pressure on sales."

Windau also said that if farmers start spending too much to combat weeds then the benefits of genetically modified seed could diminish and they will stop buying it.

"There definitely could be issues there," he said.

There is, however, some hope in the pipeline. Monsanto is working on developing soybeans and cotton that are resistant to the chemical dicamba. The cotton could be on the market within three years.

Until then, farmers say, they're going to be spending more time in their fields, applying more chemicals, tilling and hoeing.

"Fortunately," Jennings said, "weeds haven't developed a resistance to cold steel."

Related Stories