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Illinois’ Flawed Fracking Law Is Everyone’s Problem, Ecologist Says

The backroom negotiations behind the midwestern state’s new fracking regulations may be a taste of what’s to come in other places.
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What happens in Illinois, doesn't stay in Illinois. That was the message last week of acclaimed scientist and author Sandra Steingraber, who joined the growing local uprising’s last ditch effort to pass a moratorium on the controversial hydraulic gas drilling operations until the state could conduct a comprehensive scientific and health assessment.

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The Illinois House and Senate passed a regulatory bill last Friday, which had been brokered in a backroom deal by Illinois Democrats, gas industry and labor representatives, and a small cadre of environmental groups but—to the consternation of Steingraber and grassroot activists—without any independent scientists, health experts, or impacted downstate residents at the negotiating table.

Despite these concerns, the Chicago Tribune’s lede was "Let the fracking begin.” The Washington Post, similarly, ran with the prevailing narrative about the bill: "Illinois lawmakers approve nation's toughest fracking regulations."

Not so, says Steingraber, an Illinois native, who has played a key role in the anti-fracking movement in New York and across the country. Testifying at a last minute House committee hearing with Gasland director Josh Fox, leading protests at the Illinois state capitol, and confronting bill negotiators from the offices of Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and environmental lobbyists, Steingraber didn't pull any punches. "We consider the fracking regulatory bill to be a subversion of both science and democracy,” she said. “No public hearings or public comment periods ever took place. And yet it is the public that is being compelled to live with the risks sanctioned by this bill. It is an unjust law."

Filmmaker Ben Evans and I sat down with Steingraber on the eve of the vote and asked her to speak on a number of topics, including why Illinois' historic fracking regulations should matter to the rest of the nation, and why the state is becoming another ground zero for the national climate movement.

(Part 1 of the video is above, while parts 2 through 5 are posted below.)




Jeff Biggers and Ben Evans created this article and shot these videos for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions.

Winner of the David R. Brower Award for Environmental Reporting, Jeff Biggers is the author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, among other books. His website is

Ben Evans is a documentary filmmaker, actor, and owner of BEgreenCreative. His award-winning eco-docu-comedy, "YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip," is now available from First Run Features and at the film's website.




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