Illinois environmentalists are cheering the spectacular success of the movement to ban fracking in New York. The victory is justifiably spurring reflection on how it was done. What happened in New York that Illinois environmentalists can learn from?
- Environmental and public health groups made an unambiguous, united push for a ban or moratorium, not regulation.
- They kept constant, aggressive grassroots pressure on Governor Cuomo and other politicians, especially during election season.
- State government conducted a thorough study on potential public health impacts before fracking began.
- They took the fight to small towns and potentially impacted rural areas, not just New York City.
- As Mark Ruffalo wrote, “The fact that we didn't let the big greens come in and make back room deals was also important to note.”
- They engaged in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, including over 90 arrests near Seneca Lake since October.
Essentially, New York fractivists took the opposite approach of most big green groups active in the Illinois statehouse.
Illinois greens started with a basic chemical disclosure bill several years ago rather than organizing the passionate grassroots desire for a ban. Although there were efforts to ask legislators to pass a moratorium, statehouse green groups remained focused on various regulatory bills. Some of them eventually won a seat at the negotiating table with industry lobbyists to write a regulatory law by ignoring the loud and frequent objection of environmentalists in impacted areas who said regulation cannot make fracking safe.
During the past year, pro-regulation groups joined Governor Pat Quinn in remaining silent about his unpopular support for fracking. Sierra Club even issued a greenwash endorsement of Quinn as a “climate leader” despite his horrible record on fossil fuel extraction.
Several groups continued to engage in the regulatory process without meaningful buy-in or communication with the downstate anti-fracking movement. They tell environmental audiences they prefer a ban, but told legislators they'll settle for regulation. The result is a deeply divided movement that's less effective on all energy issues.
What's next for Illinois?
More fractivists are focusing on county government, like a victory lead by Illinois People's Action to stop a proposed oil drill in McLean county. Union county is forming a group to study the impacts of fracking and conventional drilling at the urging of the Shawnee Sentinels. There's a good reason why Illinois law doesn't allow counties to ban fracking. Some of them would actually do it.
In southern Illinois, lifelong residents and grandmothers are training to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to stop fracking operations. Additionally, momentum is building to form a coalition similar to New York that will coordinate statewide action between groups.
Illinoisans made their opposition to fracking clear through unprecedented participation in the public hearing process and by choosing not to show up for Pat Quinn on election day. But the industry's farcical campaign to marginalize fractivists as a tiny fringe continues to have lingering influence among legislators and reporters in the statehouse. One result is inadequate coverage given to the anti-fracking movement. Fractivists can't rely on regional news outlets traditionally sympathetic to fossil fuel interests to get our message out.
What the movement does next year won't make the impact it should if most of the public and politicians don't hear about it. That's why I'm launching a new way for the movement to generate accurate, full coverage of how extraction industries are impacting the state.
Illinois environmentalists had discouraging setbacks in 2014. Resolving to follow New York's example will bring more success in 2015.
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