Update on the IDNR’s Revised Fracking Regulations by the IL Enviornmental Council

A message from Jen Walling, Executive Director of the non-profit environmental legislation watchdog organization, the Illinois Environmental Council, on the current political process surrounding the IDNR’s regulations on fracking.

On May 29, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sent to the Joint Committee on Administrative Review (JCAR) revised rules for High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing (“fracking”).  The revised rules are available online here.

As you may be aware, tens of thousands of comments were made on the first notice to JCAR during public comment.  You can view these comments here. The rules and comments are accompanied by a 350+ page response document that summarizes and responds to the comments made to IDNR.  This exhaustive, footnoted document demonstrates an improved effort by IDNR to address concerns by the public.  While you may not have time to read the entire document, supporters who follow this issue and news at IDNR may find the response to IDNR’s role in protecting the environment, response to calls for a moratorium, and other sections (such as water management and water pollution) of interest.  The response document is available here.

The environmental community is still reviewing the document and has begun to identify deficiencies.  Ann Alexander at NRDC has produced an excellent blog summarizing the reasons for our opposition to fracking as well as the significance of this new set of rules.
The process to adopt or reject these rules is a complicated one going forward. JCAR is a body made up of 12 legislators, 6 democrats and 6 republicans, who vote to adopt agency regulations.  After the filing of these rules for second notice, JCAR has up to 45 days, which can be extended to 90 days to take action.  Because action must be taken within one year of first filing the rules, action must be taken by November 15.

JCAR has a few options that it can take at this point in the process.  It can issue a certificate of no objection, a recommendation, or an objection.  These rulings issued to the agency all result in eventual adoption of the rules.  (This Pantagraph article has a good explanation of the process).  Each of these require a majority of those present and voting (7 votes if all 12 members are there).  JCAR can also prohibit or suspend the rules, requiring 3/5 of those present and voting (8 votes if all members are present).  For more on the JCAR rules, visit their website.  While JCAR meets next on September 16, it is possible but unlikely that action will be taken at that meeting.

Jen Walling
Executive Director, Illinois Environmental Council

Posted in energy, Illinois, news, policy, pollution, waste | Leave a comment

BP Guilty of “Reckless Conduct” in 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, According to Federal Court

While the energy company BP has long maintained it was not primarily responsible for the largest oil spill in US history — the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico — US district court judge Carl Barbier determined otherwise in a 153-page decision released on Thursday. As reported on 4 Sept 2014 by Campbell Robertson and Clifford Krause of the NY Times, BP may now be fined “$18 billion in new civil penalties . . . , nearly quadruple the maximum Clean Water Act penalty for simple negligence and far more than the $3.5 billion the company has set aside.”

The decision, likely to be appealed by BP, is the latest chapter in the story of the oil spill that sent tens of millions of gallons pouring into the Gulf and killed 11 workers on the drilling rig when it exploded. It also illustrates the process by which shared responsibility is determined among the various companies performing work on the drilling operation.

NEW ORLEANS — In the four years since the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has spent more than $28 billion on damage claims and cleanup costs, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and emerged a shrunken giant.

But through it all, the company has maintained that it was not chiefly responsible for the accident, and that its contractors in the operation, Halliburton and Transocean, should shoulder as much, if not more, of the blame.

On Thursday, a federal judge here for the first time bluntly rejected those arguments, finding that BP was indeed the primary culprit and that only it had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks.” He added that BP’s “conduct was reckless.”

By finding that BP was, in legal parlance, grossly negligent in the disaster, and not merely negligent, United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier opened the possibility of $18 billion in new civil penalties for BP, nearly quadruple the maximum Clean Water Act penalty for simple negligence and far more than the $3.5 billion the company has set aside.

The ruling stands as a milestone in environmental law given that this was the biggest offshore oil spill in American history, legal experts said, and serves as a warning for the oil companies that continue to drill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where high pressures and temperatures in the wells test the most modern drilling technologies.

“We are pleased,” United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said of the ruling. “The court’s finding will ensure that the company is held fully accountable for its recklessness.”

The decision also casts a cloud over BP’s future. Its reputation has already been sullied and important holdings in Russia are at risk because of tensions in Ukraine. In addition to the $28 billion in claim payments and cleanup costs it has paid, BP has been forced to divest itself of more than 10 percent of its oil and gas reserves, along with valuable pipelines and refining facilities to pay claims and increase its profitability. BP shares fell by nearly 6 percent Thursday, closing at $44.89.In a statement, BP said it “strongly disagrees with the decision” and would immediately appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. BP added that the ruling was “not supported by the evidence at trial,” and that “the law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case.”

In a toughly worded 153-page decision, Judge Barbier reconstructed the timeline from the risky decision to drill more deeply before stopping to the hellish final minutes of hissing gas and raining mud, concluding with the deadly fireball that erupted on the night of April 20, 2010.

The hasty effort to temporarily shut down a drilling operation that was over budget and behind schedule led to what Judge Barbier called “a chain of failures” culminating in the explosion and spill.

Vital seals and stoppers were left leaky along the casing of the well, the judge found, while BP then skimped on tests that might have shown the problems caused by the shoddy work. When tests were run, the results were interpreted with optimism at best and dishonesty at worst, and several critical decisions made by BP were found by Judge Barbier to have been “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

While acknowledging responsibility for the accident, BP had long argued that the blame should be fully shared with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton, a contractor that oversaw a critical step in closing up the well.

While Judge Barbier did find the other companies had acted with negligence, he concluded that only BP, which leased the well and was in charge of the operation, was grossly negligent. He apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP, 30 percent to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton.

“Transocean’s failures,” the judge wrote at one point, “largely concern its inability (due in part to further failures by BP) to stop the catastrophe BP set in motion.”

BP has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in federal criminal penalties. But the company’s ultimate civil liability is far from determined.

In 2012, BP reached a settlement with many of the individual and business plaintiffs but has battled in court over interpretations of that settlement ever since. Last month the company requested that the United States Supreme Court support its reading of the settlement after a federal appeals court rejected that argument in May.

The leaders of a group of lawyers representing the damage claimants, James P. Roy and Stephen J. Herman, reacted to Thursday’s ruling in a statement, saying, “The court has now laid bare the full extent of the level of BP’s misconduct.”

Officials from states along the gulf welcomed Thursday’s decision as ammunition for their own separate damage lawsuits.

The ruling only pertains to the first phase of a federal civil trial, concerning the responsibility of the blowout itself. Judge Barbier still must rule on how much oil was spilled in the accident, the subject of a trial that took place in the fall of last year. A third phase, scheduled to start in January, will lead to a final determination of penalties under the Clean Water Act.

This week Halliburton reached a $1.1 billion settlement with individual and business plaintiffs. Last year, Transocean agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle federal criminal and civil charges, which is likely to cover most of its liability.

Legal scholars said BP faced an uphill struggle in the appeals process.

David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who headed the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department from 2000 to 2007, highlighted the judge’s decision that “the government did not need to show BP was aware of the risks associated with its conduct” to be found grossly negligent.

But the judge went on to say, Mr. Uhlmann said, that “even if they had to show awareness of risk, the government had satisfied that burden.”

Posted in business, economics, energy, news, pollution, water | Leave a comment

100 Years Ago, Humanity Exterminated the Passenger Pigeon

Today, 1 September 2014, marks the final passing of a iconic species: the passenger pigeon, which in the 19th century was the most populous bird in North America. This editorial by conservation scientist Stanley Temple, of the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo WI, puts the human-caused extinction of the pigeon in a larger context about our ethical relation to nature and future prospects for conserving our remaining biodiversity.

WSJ Editorial on PP 2014-08-31

Posted in biodiversity, conservation, ecology, ethics, history, news, wildlife

Illinois DNR Releases Updated Fracking Regulations for Final Review

This past Friday, Aug. 29th, the Illinois DNR released its revised regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after receiving a record number of 30,000+ public comments on its initial draft rules back in the fall of 2013. Now the state’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, made up of several IL legislators (many of whom are from the Chicago region), will do a final review of these regulations within a 45-day period. If they are approved, oil and gas companies will be able to start applying for fracking permits in IL, a prospect they have been salivating over ever since Gov. Quinn signed IL’s hotly-contested fracking law back in the summer of 2013.

Packed house at the IDNR public hearing on fracking in Decatur, IL (photo: IL People's Action)

Packed house at the IDNR public hearing on fracking in Decatur, IL (photo: IL People’s Action)

As reported by the Chicago Tribune‘s Julie Wernau, the new fracking regulations are complex and will require detailed analysis over the new few days by environmental critics to see how much they’ve been strengthened compared to the original draft rules, which were criticized because they failed to live up to the intent of the law in many instances. As Wernau notes in this useful article, though, the regulations are extremely important in terms of how companies must protect natural resources, provide information to the public, regulate their pollution, etc.

Fracking diagramMeanwhile, fracking is playing an increasingly prominent role in the state’s gubernatorial politics. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money from oil and gas companies, who are frustrated at the long delay by the IDNR to revise its regulations. At the same time, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn has touted fracking as an economic/job engine for the state, much to the chagrin of environmental progressives such as the IL People’s Action organization, who view the prospect of frac sand mining in northern IL and fracking in southern IL as a huge step backward for the state’s environmental protections, public health, and energy policy.

Stay tuned for more news from environmental advocates and policy groups as they assess the new IDNR rules; and check out the regulations here for yourself.

Posted in business, climate change, economics, energy, Illinois, news, policy, pollution, science, waste

Exploring Spatial Justice in Chicago on Oct. 7th at the Institute for Cultural Affairs

The Center for Humans and Nature, in partnership with The Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network and the Institute of Cultural Affairs, invites students, faculty, alumni, and friends of Roosevelt — as well as anyone interested in promoting urban sustainability and social equity — for a discussion about how justice is a critical component in how we create, maintain, and engage with and within space. SUST director and professor Mike Bryson is one of the participants in the forum.

Photo credit: Center for Humans and Nature

When/Where: Tuesday, Oct. 7th, 2014 | 5:30-7pm | Institute of Cultural Affairs, 4750 N. Sheridan Rd. (a short walk east from the Red Line’s Lawrence stop)

  • Through interactive activities, all participants will be encouraged to share stories and ideas about justice and space in Chicago.
  • Julian AgyemanA facilitated dialogue with four panelists—community activists Melanie Eckner (Uptown) and Orrin Williams (South Side), Sustainability Studies Professor Michael Bryson (Roosevelt University), and Professor of Urban + Environmental Policy + Planning and CHN Senior Scholar Julian Agyeman (Tufts University, at left, participating via Skype)—will reflect on key ideas surfaced by the full group about the relationship between justice and space.
  • The event will conclude with a full group discussion about implications for community action in Chicago.

Reception to follow the meeting. Space is limited and expected to fill quickly! Register to attend & join the online conversation today. The event is free, with a suggested donation of $5-10.

Posted in architecture, cities, community, ethics, events, faculty, humanities, parks and public land, planning, policy, social justice, transportation

Yonah Freemark, SUST faculty, on High-Speed Rail

Eurostar High Speed Rail trainsYonah Freemark, who is teaching SUST 320, Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning this Fall, recently published an important opinion piece on the failure of political will in the U.S. to build more High-Speed Rail. Freemark explains the federal government’s unwillingness to prioritize, and how other countries have successfully modernized their rail systems.  He argues the U.S. has the skill and resources – we built the Interstate Highway System, in the1950s, after all – but High-Speed rail takes leadership at the federal level that is sorely lacking.

The piece appeared in CityLab, the influential media outlet run by The Atlantic magazine on all things urban.  (I highly recommend subscribing for free at the bottom of this page).

Yonah FreemarkFreemark has published numerous pieces in CityLab as well as on his own highly-regarded website, The Transport Politic.  His work has also appeared in The New York Times.  And you can follow him on Twitter.  He currently works in Chicago for the Metropolitan Planning Council, the city’s oldest think-tank and advocacy group for better urbanism.  He comes to Chicago from Yale and MIT, where he earned a Masters of Science in Transportation and a Masters of City Planning. 

Congratulations to Professor Freemark on his important contributions to the national dialogue on high-speed rail and many other planning subjects.  We are fortunate to have him teaching in our Sustainability Studies Program at Roosevelt!

Brad Hunt, Dean, Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies

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Fall 2014 SUST Courses at Roosevelt: Still Time to Register!

Registration is ongoing for Fall 2014 classes in Sustainability Studies! Our fall line-up of courses features a mix of campus and online offerings, and this early in the registration period there are still plenty of seats in each course. On-campus courses begin next week (Aug 25) and online courses kick off the week of Sept 8. Of particular note are two of our Chicago-based courses that meet at really cool off-campus locations:

Colleen Dennis working in the Botany Department at the FMNH

Colleen Dennis working in the Botany Department at the FMNH

SUST 330 Biodiversity, taught by Prof. Julian Kerbis Peterhans, will meet on Thursdays from 9am to 1pm at the renowned Field Museum of Natural History. Students in this popular version of 330 experience lectures, discussions, and other activities as a group, but are also paired up individually with scientists working on biodiversity/conservation research projects throughout the museum’s science departments. Several RU students, such as Amanda Zeigler (BPS ’12) and Colleen Dennis, who took SUST 330 at the FMNH have gone on to earn internships and/or paid positions at the museum. (Enrollment capped at 20; see course preview here.)

Eden Place Nature Center co-founder Michael Howard (back row, center) with children, Chicago IL

Eden Place Nature Center co-founder Michael Howard (back row, center) with children, Chicago IL

SUST 350 Service & Sustainability, last offered in spring 2013, will be taught on Tuesdays from 12-3pm by Prof. Mike Bryson at the Eden Place Nature Center in the Fuller Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. This is a Transformational Service Learning class that will involve performing work at a leading Chicago urban farm / nature center; students will also collaborate on special “action research projects” to further the EPNC’s mission and community outreach. For more info, see Dr. Bryson’s 350 course preview here. (Enrollment capped at 15.)

Several other SUST courses are available as well, including SUST 210 Sustainable Future, 220 Water, 230 Food, 240 Waste, and 320 Sprawl/Transportation/Planning in Chicago; and 210 Sustainable Future, 230 Food, 310 Energy & Climate Change, and 330 Biodiversity online.

Current RU students should contact their advisor to discuss spring (and summer) course selections and sign up for classes while they are still available. This page from the RU Registrar provides a wealth of links and useful info.

Prospective students may learn about admissions and our many program options at RU, request information about a particular campus or academic program here, or visit the SUST homepage to explore our BA (120 semester hour) and BPS (adult student fast-track) bachelors degree options.

Posted in courses, education, field trips, Roosevelt, service, students