Environmentalists lobby against budget cuts, fees in Springfield

Environmental advocates asked legislators to pass legislation regulating hydraulic fracturing Thursday in Springfield at the annual Environmental Issues Lobby Day.

Terri Treacy, conservation field representative for the Illinois Chapter Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy organization founded in 1892, said the need for sustainability of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was also discussed.

Treacy said her organization also opposes the Tenaska bill, which would authorize the construction of a $3.5 billion coal gasification plant in Taylorville.

Treacy said the lobby day has been an annual event since 2004.

Representative Frank Mautino is promoting legislation that would allow the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to generate income by charging entry fees at state parks and still receive funding appropriated by the General Assembly, and the Sierra Club supports the initiative, she said.

Treacy said Illinois is one of fewer than a dozen states that do not charge state park entry fees. Decreased funding from the state’s general revenue fund will cause a decline in the amount and type of services at state parks and natural areas, said Travis Loyd, deputy director for the INDR.

He said without additional money generated by fees, the department will not be able to hire temporary groundskeepers who mow and keep trails cleared during the summer.

Tourists Sharon and Michael Seymour, of Crown Point, Ind., said they are concerned about reduced funding for Illinois state parks. The two said they go to LaRue Pine Hills, a natural area in Union County, whenever they get the chance.

“We would be very upset if the parks weren’t maintained,” Sharon Seymour said.

The lack of state regulations that govern hydraulic fracturing operations also concerns her group, Treacy said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method used to extract natural gas from subterranean shale by injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into wells using extremely high pressure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

“Currently, there is no regulation that requires full disclosure of the chemicals used,” Treacy said.

She said she would like to see regulations that require energy companies to disclose which chemicals are used for fracking, impose strong standards for well casings and provide better well inspection standards.

Liz Patula, coordinator for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, said she is concerned that residents of southeastern Illinois don’t completely understand that the chemicals used in fracking are toxic and may seep into the groundwater.

She said many citizens aren’t aware that hydraulic fracturing operations may begin soon in Saline County.

“The gas companies just kind of snuck in,” Patula said. “People don’t know that fracking is going to happen.”

She said her organization is also asking state legislators to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

“Any kind of regulation is better than nothing, and the stronger the regulation, the better,” she said.

Jack Overstreet, the manager for Next Energy, a Colorado-based company that secures leases for oil and gas exploration, said in an email that his company is in favor of good governmental oversight and regulation of the hydraulic fracturing industry.

“Carefully regulated oil and gas exploration is safe, important, and a positive part of our economic growth and national security,” he said.

Overstreet said his company is spending millions of dollars on lease bonuses in southern Illinois, and property owners, small businesses and local governmental taxing authorities will benefit from the money spent in the area on gas and oil operations.

Britanny Bilderback, a lease-writer for Next Energy, said her company is primarily concerned with acquiring leases for oil and gas exploration.  After her company secures the leases, it partners with another company that drills the wells, she said.

Bilderback said Next Energy is in the process of acquiring property rights in Wayne, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Saline and Christian counties.

“We’re working on acquiring as much land as possible to give us the best options later,” Bilderback said.

Illinoisans also need to be concerned about the Tenaska bill, Treacy said, which would require Illinois residents to subsidize the cost of constructing a coal-fired power plant in Taylorville.

She said proponents of the bill claim it will create jobs and stabilize electric rates for 30 years, but her organization opposes the bill because of air pollution caused by the coal gasification process and the cost to the
citizens of Illinois.

She said the Tenaska bill was first introduced several years ago and, after it was defeated twice before, the Senate passed the bill in
November 2011.

“The Tenaska bill keeps coming back,” Treacy said. “If it passes, it’s going to affect everyone in Illinois for the next 30 years.”

 

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