Tag Archives: fracking

Happy Holidays: Environmental Groups Take on IDNR

December 16, 2012

IDNR: “arbitrary and capricious decision” to approve Starved Rock mining permit – in other words, they’re being sued

It’s been exactly a year since I first got wind of the plan to site an open pit frac sand mine just outside the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County. I went back to look at the website entry I posted for December 18, 2011 and, at that time, the LaSalle County Board of Zoning Appeals had just met and unanimously approved the special use permit to allow Mississippi Sand LLC establish its operation on 350 acres of farmland on the south side of the Illinois River.

In the twelve months since that initial decision, the mine has come closer and closer to being a reality. The full county board voted to approve the action of the zoning board, and Mississippi Sand began the process of submitting permits to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Office of Mines and Minerals (OMM) and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

Meanwhile, local and state activists began making their voices heard. Groups like the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Openlands and Prairie Rivers Network led the charge, but other groups and individuals have worked tirelessly to get the word out to the general public that the very character of this beloved state park could possibly be changed forever–and for the worse. I have interviewed countless people on my program–those representing environmental groups, and residents who stand to be directly affected by this affront to the beauty of the area.

Three weeks ago, to the dismay of those involved in the battle, IDNR OMM approved Phase I of the Starved Rock mine. But the latest chapter in this struggle between industry and the environment was written this week when the Sierra Club , Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands filed a complaint in Circuit Court in Springfield, Illinois demanding judicial review of that sand mining permit.

It reads in part:

Defendant Mississippi Sand, LLC…failed to comply with SMLCRA [Illinois Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act] by submitting a Conservation and Reclamation Plan…a Reclamation Map and Affected Area Map with its application for a surface mining permit, which inaccurately and inadequately describe its proposed silica mining project adjacent to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park…in LaSalle County. Defendants Michael Woods, Michael Falter. OMM (collectively the “OMM Defendants”) and IDNR violated SMLCRA in that they approved the flawed Reclamation Plan. Reclamation Map, and Affected Area Map, and, as evidenced by their written findings, failed to consider adequately all of the thirteen factors relating to the short and long-term impacts of the proposed mine as required by SMLCRA…As a result, OMM Defendants and IDNR made an arbitrary and capricious decision to approve the Mississippi Sand surface mining permit. [Empasis mine.]

The “thirteen factors” cited above include the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution, and drainage, as required by the Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act and its regulations.

The petition continues:

The actions and inactions of Agency Defendants will allow the degradation and destruction of private and public interests. The mine and its operations will injure the enjoyment and health of park users specifically and persons generally, as well as the healthfulness of properties near the proposed mine. Neighbors to Starved Rock, visitors to Starved Rock and wildlife will experience intermittent bursts of loud noise from explosive blasting at the mine site. Noise and air pollution will harm and directly disturb neighboring businesses including a nearby apiary. Aesthetic and health impacts on the park will likely reduce the number of visitors to the park and thereby harm businesses that rely on park visitors for revenue. Nearby properties may flood. Visitors to Starved Rock and neighbors may suffer from, and will fear harm from, carcinogenic respirable silica dust and other airborne pollutants from the proposed mine. Defendant Mississippi Sand will partially destroy and wholly alter the flow characteristics of Horseshoe Creek, which flows into Starved Rock. All of these impacts, and the community perception of such impacts, may reduce the value of nearby private property. Finally, Defendant Mississippi Sand may be unable to reclaim the mined land as its Reclamation Plan and Reclamation Map indicates and the law requires.

In one of the more interesting aspects of this action, the environmental parties bringing suit contend that the Office of Mines and Minerals violated the Illinois Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act (SMLCRA) by “Failing to Consider Adequately its Statutorily-Required Factors.” However, they then turn around and declare that “SMLCRA Violates the Due Process Guarantee in the Illinois and United States Constitutions as it was Applied by the Agency Defendants in This Case.”

SMLCRA is unconstitutional to the extent that it is held to provide that no notice or predecisional hearing is required for the members and supporters of Plaintiffs whose protected property interests are placed at risk by the issuance of this permit.

A. Due Process requires that IDNR hold a hearing on a non-coal surface mining permit application at the request of persons whose property interests will be jeopardized by the permitted activity.
B. Due Process requires IDNR to consider comments on a non-coal surface mining permit submitted by persons whose property interests will be jeopardized by the permitted activity.
C. Therefore, if SMLCRA is held to allow IDNR to issue permits for activities that endanger protected property interests while denying those whose interests are at stake any opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time, in a meaningful manner, SMLCRA violates the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions.

Finally, the plaintiffs charge that IDNR Defendants’ Violated the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act by Failing to Fulfill Consultation Requirements.In the end, the suit seeks to void the permit; “providing such further and additional relief as this Court deems just and proper.”

Today, I’m pleased to have Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, return to the show to talk about the law suit and where we go from here. From an article in the NewsTribune out of LaSalle, Illinois:

Tony Giordano, president of Mississippi Sand, LLC, said the sand mine project was ready to begin next spring but now that a lawsuit has been filed it could delay the project for as long as a year.

“This has been the most scrutinized sand mine in the state of Illinois,” Giordano said. “It’s frustrating. This lawsuit has little merit. There are multiple state agencies that have examined mines and given us permits. In the end, we’ll get our permits and have to look at that time what the market will bare [sic].”

Or maybe the project will be scuttled entirely. ‘Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.

If you want your voice to be heard, there’s still time. Here’s how you can contact Governor Pat Quinn. He’s been awfully silent on this issue. Makes me nervous.

Lisa, Sarah and Mike offer great books for holiday gifts… Part Deux

Last week we interviewed a few authors of books that we thought would make good holiday gifts. However, as you know, my show is only two hours long, which means that a number of good books didn’t get discussed.

So welcome to the second part of our discussion. Let’s start with some books recommended by Lisa Albrecht, who really got short shrift last week. My apologies, Lisa. Take it away:

Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy — and Our Planet — from Dirty Energy by Danny Kennedy
Obviously I am biased but this is my favorite. Danny Kennedy likens the move toward solar to the Industrial Revolution, hence the name. He predicts a “Solar Assent” as we move from dirty energy to clean sources that each of us can own individually. My favorite part – each chapter has a section called “What You Can Do as a Rooftop Revolutionary”. I like action and often I am inspired by a book or message but lack a “next step”. Danny not only offers them but his website includes the links and back ground that you need to join the revolution.

Power Trip, The Story of America’s Love Affair With Energy by Amanda Little
I recently met Amanda Little, who shared her exploration of the energy industry first hand, including a journey to the top of an oil rig and the catacombs of NY tunnels. Although I am not finished, the book reads like a Lonely Planet of the energy industry and is engaging adventure, painting pictures of technology few get to see firsthand. Sectioned into two parts, the first reveals the evolution of oil/energy over the last century. The second discusses new possibilities, offering hope and vision.

Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It by Osha Gray Davidson
As a solar professional, Germany is revered as the Meca of Clean Energy, both a source of shame and inspiration as an entire country with the sunshine of Alaska successfully shifts to renewable energy. Osha Gray Davidson visited Germany this summer to witness the success and tell the story of Germany’s desire to break up with dirty energy after Chernobyl in 1986 and the movement that is known as Energiewend or “energy change”. He explores the social climate that has driven their success and a nationwide commitment toward a cleaner, self-reliant future and how we might be able to do the same in the US.

Meanwhile, a couple of other selections popped up on my radar screen, thanks to the good folks at The Mountaineers Books.

On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve by Debbie S. Miller
What if I told you that there is a tract of U.S. land that is larger than the state of Maine and that is largely untouched by our all-too-greasy-hands? Well, it does exist in Alaska (where else?) and it has the unfortunate name of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. Yup, what might be the most pristine place left on the planet (with the possible exception of Antarctica (and who wants to go there besides me?) is ready to be exploited by the people who have turned exploitation into a science (yes, I’m talking about us…as in U.S.!) Debbie Miller has explored just a fraction of this territory and in this very cool and important book–made even cooler by the fabulous photographs– explains why we might want to preserve this area instead of milking it dry for its oil and gas.

Cairns: Messengers in Stone by David B. Williams
What do I know about cairns? Pretty much nothing. And what do YOU know about them? I’m guessing the same. Which is why we need David Williams to tell us about what are essentially piles of rocks that have meaning. For thousands of years cairns have been used by people to connect to the landscape and communicate with others, and are often an essential guide to travelers. Cairns, among other things, can indicate a trail, mark a grave, serve as an altar or shrine, reveal property boundaries or sacred hunting grounds, and even predict astronomical activity. Who knew? (Apparently, David did.)

Books recommended by Ron Wolford at Illinois Extension

Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia

Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest – University of Illinois

Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers – The American Horticulture Society

Crockett’s Victory Garden

Step-by-Step Gardening Techniques Illustrated

The double dangers of fracking in Illinois

November 18, 2012

The real cost of fracking in Illinois

It’s been too long since Josh Mogerman from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was on the show. So I took note when I received a couple of emails from him this week about important environmental issues. One was about how fourteen major commercial buildings, with a combined 14 million square feet of space, are working with the City of Chicago to cut their energy needs by 20% over the next five years through energy efficiency improvements. We’ll get to that in a moment.

But let’s start with something that I’ve been covering for almost a year now–the attempt to place an open pit frac sand mine next to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park, and the larger issue of how that sand is used and how vast swaths of land in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are being turned into open pit scars.

Many concerned citizens are making their voices heard in an attempt to prevent the travesty at Starved Rock from being played out. In fact, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been one of the staunchest defenders of the park, just sent out this message:

Illinois EPA is currently proposing the issuance of a General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which would authorize up to 5.1 million gallons of frac sand mine discharge per day into Horseshoe Creek, a tributary of the Illinois River flowing through the park.

The deadline for public input ends this Sunday, November 18, 2012 .

Act Now! Tell Illinois EPA a general permit is not good enough for our premier state park!

Tell Illinois EPA to instead require a site-specific Individual NPDES permit, which regulates discharge effluents more strictly. The individual permit also allows citizens to request a public hearing before the mine can move forward, a critical step in the review process for this proposed mine that has unfortunately had very limited opportunities for public input.

As you can see, you need to make your voice heard TODAY!

But while the focus has been specifically on Starved Rock, there’s a larger picture that involves many landowners in LaSalle County, who find their rights being trampled on by their elected and non-elected representatives. According to LaSalle County resident Farley Andrews, Mississippi Sand LLC’s decision to dig next to Starved Rock State Park was just one of a series of moves:

After that the Village of Utica (directly across the Illinois River from Starved Rock Park) annexed land to the east, along Route 6, and west of Ottawa, on the north side of the river, to expedite sale and mining of this parcel of land by ILLINOIS SAND CO. (another transnational corporation). In much the same ways as the La Salle County Board, Utica Village Council voted against the advise of its own advisory committee to approve annexation and sale of the Route 6 parcel of land for mining. Many residents living adjacent, and across from the mine [see photo on left] have for the past year been engaged in a struggle to save their homes. Many on these residential properties were not included in the annexation of the property to be mined, so they have little recourse through the Village of Utica, but they are absolutely effected, as anyone can see from photos. Noise is terrible, trucks and mine traffic is dangerous, and the mine eventually intends to be running on a 24-7 schedule. Most all adjacent home owners have now posted their properties, “FOR SALE BY OWNERS”. Home owners and this issue desperately need public attention…

Two of those home owners are Phil and Diane Gassman, and they are also on the show this morning to tell their story. It’s not pretty, believe me.

The reason why the bluffs along the Illinois River have become prime mining territory has to do with the nature of the pure silica frac sand found there and along many rivers in the Midwest. At one time, glass was the major product derived from the Jordan and St. Peter sandstone. Now it’s a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which chemicals–many of them undisclosed–are mixed with large quantities of water and sand and injected into wells at extremely high pressure in order to create fissures in the rock that will release oil and gas deposits.

The problem is that this process is being implicated in contaminating water supplies in a number of states, and it’s even possible that the technology is connected to minor earthquakes.

Meanwhile, the State of Illinois has no safeguards when it comes to protecting its citizens from potential damage caused by fracking. The NRDC’s Nick Magrisso writes that the NRDC is urging the Illinois General Assembly to pass comprehensive fracking legislation that would include:

  • A citizens right to take part in the process of permitting wells and appealing permits;
  • Adequate disclosure of the toxic chemicals companies plan to pump underground;
  • Testing and monitoring for contamination before and after fracking;
  • Prohibition on the use of unnecessary toxic chemicals such as BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), and a requirement that drillers prove for any toxic chemical that no safer alternatives exists;
  • Tough standards for waste storage and disposal, and an end in Illinois to the loophole in federal law exempting drilling and fracking waste from being treated as hazardous – one of the many federal loopholes the oil and gas industry enjoys ; and
  • Measures to limit air pollution from both the fracking operations and the heavy truck traffic that accompanies it.

He adds:

Illinois decision makers need to protect Illinois’ citizens, not the pockets of oil and gas interests.  Illinois has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation and get the rules right by developing responsible standards to govern fracking and by continuing to invest in clean energy, as we have done with energy efficiency and renewable energy – policies that have created thousands of jobs across the state .  However, taking that opportunity to lead on fracking rules will require going beyond partisan divides and ideological rhetoric .  It will require coming together to ensure no dangerous, “wild west” fracking happens on our watch.  And we should do so, because if we do not act together to ensure that fracking is done responsibly if at all, we will end up facing a legacy of pollution together, with the taxpayers left to foot the bill for clean up.

Perhaps the best action that can be taken right now is to have a moratorium on fracking in Illinois until the General Assembly can come up with guidelines to protect the people of the state. Some municipalities are alredy moving in that direction, including the City of Carbondale, according to Environment Illinois:

In a unanimous decision, the Carbondale City Council passed a resolution calling on the Illinois General Assembly to “enact a moratorium on high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing until such time as the health and environmental concerns of the people of Illinois are addressed”. In this decision, Carbondale joins the Illinois towns of Carlyle, Anna and Alto Pass and Union and Jackson Counties in taking action supporting a moratorium, becoming the largest city yet to do so.

Now let’s move from the discouraging to the encouraging. As I mentioned above, a number of commercial buildings are participating in Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative.

The NRDC’s Rebecca Stanfield reports on how this applies to the Franklin Center, which was originally called the AT&T Corporate Center and was built in 1980s and early 90s. The complex is comprised of two buildings, 60-floors and 34-floors tall, and the owner, Tishman Speyer .is working with tenants, employing data centers and prioritizing energy management to bring their energy use down by 20% in the next five years.

Whew! We have a lot to cover on the show today. Let’s get started.

Promoting Bioneers and Protecting Starved Rock

October 21, 2012

What are Bioneers and why are they coming to Chicago?

Just when you thought you had seen and experienced every kind of green festival and conference that it is possible to present, here comes The Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago and The Living City for three days at the UIC from November 2 to 4.

Featuring an all-star cast of movers and shakers in the sustainability world, like Vandana ShivaJohn EdelStarhawk and more, this event goes beyond lectures and workshops. More than 60 interactive sessions and inspirational talks are planned. These will be interspersed with some of Chicago’s finest poets, storytellers, dancers and musicians who will focus on the relationship between our environment and justice for all living things. Each day will open and close with ritual and excitement. The theme, The Living City, is about using the body as a metaphor for the critical systems needed to keep Chicago alive, healthy and thriving.

Which still doesn’t answer the question, “What are Bioneers?” and is that singular or plural? Inquiring minds want to know. Well, as long as you asked, the term Bioneers was coined in 1990 by founder Kenny Ausubel to describe a group of people from many disciplines who see themselves as social and scientific innovators. They employ what they describe as nature’s principles–kinship, cooperation, diversity, symbiosis and cycles of continuous creation absent of waste—to move toward a more equitable, compassionate and democratic society.

Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago is one of the chapters, which states as its mission:

to promote sustainable community that fosters life-giving relationships, nurtures connections, and celebrates solutions for restoring and healing Earth’s communities. We do this through a variety of strategies including:

  • Educating the community on innovative solutions.
  • Offering a systemic framework, i.e. a way of “connecting the dots” that is holistic, systemic, and multi-disciplinary.
  • Linking individuals and networks in order to foster connection, cross-pollination, and collaboration of people and ideas, all focused on positive change.
  • Advocating for opportunities to heal and restore our damaged and depleted community.
  • Being an oasis of hope that sparks mass creativity and engagement.

In anticipation of the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago event, I’m pleased to welcome to the studio Lan and Pam Richart, who are co-founders of the non-profit organization Eco-Justice Collaborative.  Pam is a land use planner by profession and Lan is an ecologist. ECJ is lead organizer and fiscal sponsor for The Living City.

Joining them on the show today is one of those all-stars that I mentioned before, namely John Edel, Executive Director of The Plant Chicago. Back in February, I took a tour of The Plant, thanks to Blake Davis from the Illinois Institute of Technology, who has been a key part of the work there. If you haven’t heard about this remarkable project, The Plant is basically a way to combine industrial reuse and aquaponics to create the nation’s first vertical farm. Located in a former meatpacking facility in Chicago’s historic Stockyards, The Plant will be powered entirely by the waste of neighboring businesses.

It’s not surprising then, that Edel’s talk at the The Living City will be

The Plant, Rethinking Food Production

What happens when you combine urban agriculture, alternative energy and a food business incubator?  The Plant is repurposing a century old meatpacking facility to explore the intersection of recycling, job creation and local growing.  By harnessing food waste, this 95,000 sq ft vertical farm is shooting for net-zero energy use while recycling waste products, energy and gasses within the structure between manufacturing, office and growing areas. Nothing leaves but food!

I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Rally for Starved Rock on October 28!

It’s been about ten months since I heard about how the LaSalle County Board was about to cravenly sell out the environmental integrity of Starved Rock State Park for a handful of sand mining jobs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the attempt by Mississippi Sand LLC to establish an open pit sand mine next to the eastern entrance of the jewel of the Illinois state park system, you can read about it here.

Since the county approved the petition for the sand mine, it has become a race by environmental, historical and social groups to derail the establishment of what will certainly diminish the natural integrity of the park, and quite possibly be a health hazard to nearby citizens. Here’s a timeline that gives you a rough idea of the work that has been going on behind the scenes.

But what really hits home is when you talk to the people who will be living next to this scar on the earth, like Susan and Merlin Calhoun. Merlin has already been on my program to talk about his opposition to the project. Last week, his wife penned this message, which sums up the past year:

To All: When I got my letter that informed me of what was about to happen all around me, my heart sank because I feared that my life… The life I so cherished and absolutely loved coming “home” to was going to change forever!!  I sat on my lawn mower and sobbed…..!  Almost a year later, my heart is even heavier and my hope is slowly diminishing.  I always defended this county, this state because its the place I was born and raised in…. Growing up, I loved my neighbors and respected… Even admired the “farmer” in question as he farmed the land around me… Friendly waves to him from my bicycle because I had such respect and adoration because my Grandpa and Stepfather (true stewards of this land)instilled those feelings in me.  In the last year I’ve watched my neighbors turn their backs on the situation……politicians deal my way of life away without even blinking!!   My husband was approached just this week by a “township official” (why I feel the need to not mention his name … I don’t know) the conversation went something like this: so, I hear that all the sand mine groups and power line groups are still trying to fight the fight?  After this is all said and done, I’d like to hook up with these groups and tell you all “what was REALLY going on!”  oh ya and by the way, when all is said and done…. There’s a total of 12 sand mines coming into LaSalle County!!

I can say that in my mind, what is really going on is a bunch of under-handed, narrow-minded, self-serving crap!!!  It saddens and sickens me to know that my tax dollars are going in the pockets of these seat holders that deal our lives away.  We’ve got an election coming up and my suggestion would be that if you’re not happy with your seat holder…. And they have an opponent…. Then vote them OUT!! (wonder if write-ins are acceptable?) I was thrown into this unexpectedly and my  naivety of how things have transpired are so disappointing to me, especially the political side and the way these big buck companies come in under the “holiday radar”…. And just do basically anything to make themselves justified, and deserving even!  I guess this is a different way of doing business…. But in my opinion it severely lacks character and integrity!!

I continue to look at my personal safety totally different than I did a year ago.  Things still happen at my residence that make me wonder…. Is it just kids being kids….. Or is it something else? I’m tired of feeling this way and based on the past and what I know now, I doubt those deep seated feelings will ever subside. On a much more positive note… This experience has brought me even closer to my dear husband and together we’ve discovered that re-inventing ones self is limitless!  Also, I have had the great fortune of meeting and getting to know all the kind souls who stand side by side with myself and Merlin…. Regardless of what you are fighting for!!  I hope that these friendships will continue to grow and that we can accomplish some version of what we all set out to do!! Bee Great! Susan

I have talked to others who live near the park, who grow more and more certain that their fight to save Starved Rock is a lost cause. Yet, many people continue to fight. Among them are the guests on my show today: Susan Calhoun, Daphne Mitchell from the Illinois River Coordinating Council and Tracy Yang from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

But now you (yes, I mean YOU) have a chance to make your voice heard next Sunday, October 28. Illinois Sierra Club is holding a Rally for Starved Rock at the park itself. Come early and walk the trails of the park. There will then be a tour of the perimeter where the mine will be sited, followed by a chance for the public to speak up at Grizzly Jack’s Bear Resort, 2643 Illinois Rte. 178 in Utica, Illinois.

I can’t put too fine a point on it. This might be the last chance you have to weigh in on this debate. If you love Starved Rock State Park and want to see it saved, this is your opportunity.

Don’t forget about the Great Apple Pie Bake-Off today…

In the words of Jessica Rinks (a.k.a. @snappyjdog on Twitter):

The Forest Park Community Garden (which I am involved in) is having a fundraiser on Sunday October 21st from 2 to 5pm. We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as fundraisers go so we’ll be having an apple pie bake-off being held at Molly Malone’s pub in Forest Park and will also include a silent auction (Troy-bilt snowblower, bulls opening game tickets, for example) and door / raffle prizes. We need pie baker contestants and we need people to buy tickets to attend the event (and we’re always delighted to accept more raffle/silent auction item donations). Proceeds from the event will go to help us pay for garden maintenance for 2013.

If you love apple pie–and even if you don’t–they could use a little community garden love.

…and Boo-Palooza at Wicker Park next week

Speaking of great community organizations, I truly love the folks at the Wicker Park Garden Club. And with Halloween just around the corner, it’s time for their annual Boo-Palooza, next Saturday, October 27 at Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen in Chicago. Click on that link, and if you can’t find an activity that will entertain you, your children or even your dog, you probably don’t like Halloween.