Rights group to Jackson County Board: Protect us

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

There was only standing room in Courtroom 1 of the Jackson County Courthouse as the County Board convened Tuesday night. More than 45 people could not find a seat as they rallied to support a Community Bill of Rights, a measure currently under review by the Health, Safety and Solid Waste Committee.

The Bill of Rights was drafted by the Southern Illinois Right Project. If passed, an ordinance will come into effect articulating the right to clean water, air and nature, and the right to be free from chemical trespass — a term defined by the group.

Additionally, a prohibition against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and its infrastructure, including the shipment of fracking related chemicals on county roads and the use of water from Jackson county for fracking would come into effect. It would not ban or limit coal production or use.

Advertisement

Fracking is the process of pulverizing underground shale rock formations with large amounts of water, explosives and undisclosed chemicals to extract previously unreachable oil and gas deposits.

Sarah Lewison, associate professor of radio, television and digital media, spoke at the meeting, encouraging the committee to fulfill their duty to protect the county.

“The role of our county government is to protect the communities it serves,” Lewison said. “I wish to see our board fulfill its legal obligation to protect Jackson County’s communities by passing an ordinance that recognizes Jackson County’s right to ban the hazardous industrial practice of hydraulic fracturing within it’s jurisdiction.”

Jackson County is home to large amounts of water and sand, both of which are set to be used in the controversial practice, project member Ron Darnell said.

Darnell said the group formed because U.S. legislatures do not always represent the interests of the people, and the measure was drafted because fracking harms humans and the environment.

Even with regulation the group is concerned about induced earthquakes following waste-water injection, the large amounts of water required and fracking’s potential effect on tourism in the region.

Richard Fedder, attorney for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment and former SIU mathematics professor, said as much as 1 trillion gallons of fresh water — 18 times the capacity of Rend Lake — will be used to frack southern Illinois’ oil.

Darnell said the region’s environmental tourism, along with the university, keeps the community afloat.

In 2014, Jackson County saw more than $67 million from tourism flow through its economy — a continually rising number — according to the U.S. Travel Association.

The group is worried the entire region could suffer if extraction begins.  

“[If southern Illinois is fracked] you’re not going to see a huge influx in jobs for locals,” Darnell said. “There might be a few new truck drivers but that increase is going be offset by the amount of recreational and tourism money we are going to lose.”

Eli Kramer, a doctoral candidate in philosophy from Portland, Ore., said said regulation reduces, but does not stop harm.

“The Community Bill of Rights came out of the concern that regulation is not doing enough to protect people’s basic rights,” Kramer said. “Including a safe and environmentally sustainable community.”

Darnell said despite Illinois having some of the tightest regulations in the country — including water quality testing within 1,500 feet of a well — his primary concerns are not addressed in the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act.

“How do you regulate the amount of water you are going to use?” Darnell said. “How do you regulate not having an earthquake? How do you regulate people not coming to the area?”

This Bill of Rights is modeled after some of the nearly 200 Community Bill of Rights that have been drafted around the country and contains language from the Illinois State Constitution.

“Based on both experience and legal precedent of what other communities have done, we have crafted a particular document for the issues facing Jackson County,” Kramer said. “Which in this case, is fracking.”

Darnell said the document takes aim at the increasing corporate control of the government.

“Part of the problem has come from the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are the same as individuals,” Darnell said. “They have all the rights of the individual. But the problem is they have so much more power and money that we are not even on the same playing field.”

Lewison said corporations are not people and do not drink water, have kidneys or get cancer, but are property and should be treated as such.

“We live in a system of law that is unjust, because it not only legalizes, but facilitates, aids and abets wealthy, powerful and out-of-state corporations coming into our community against our consent using us as guinea pigs for their technologies, using our community for financial gain and then leaving us holding the bad once they’ve left.”

Kramer said if a corporation inflicts more damage on an ecosystem, community or individual, than allowed in the regulations, it is fined but cannot undo the damage.

The bill aims to uphold democratic and American values of consent and self-governance, Kramer said.

“This kind of work is not about being anti-fracking,” said Community Rights Coordinator Natalie Long. “It’s about being pro-community rights. The rights that are being protected here are fundamental an inalienable of humans and communities.”

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SamBeard_DE. 

Advertisement