On Thursday, November 6th the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) approved rules to implement the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. Although JCAR’s action was final, the public could not see the final version of the rules considered, and in fact we stillcannot see them until they are filed with the Secretary of State sometime before November 15th.
This lack of transparency is particularly disconcerting in light of the fracking industry’s announced efforts to weaken the rules, and media reports indicating that industry was lobbying JCAR members privy to the draft rules at the time of the JCAR vote. Thousands of members of the public expressed their opposition to fracking to JCAR, including Sierra Club members, who urged the Committee to reject the industry attacks, and further strengthen the rules.
The JCAR process is not new – virtually every significant change in rules implementing state laws must be presented to the bipartisan panel, ostensibly to ensure that agency rules are consistent with the law. However, much of its work is invisible to the public, and can result in major changes in public policy. In the case of a practice as controversial as fracking, this creates a real risk of lobbyists undermining proposed agency rules behind closed doors.
When the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) came out with the initial draft rules a year ago, Sierra Club members and thousands of other citizens and groups sent back with a very clear message – the rules are sorely lacking and must be revised. After a long and arduous six-month process, IDNR responded to the public comment with revised rules that included some major changes requested by the public.
Fracking poses grave risks to drinking water, air quality, human health, and our climate, and no rules or regulations can make it safe. Considering the dangers, the safest and best approach would clearly be a statewide moratorium, to allow time to consider important research underway and learn from the experiences of other states. However, it has been legal for under Illinois’ decades-old oil and gas laws, and the General Assembly has failed to pass legislation backed by Sierra Club and dozens of organizations to impose a moratorium.
With Governor-elect Bruce Rauner making his strong support for fracking in Illinois crystal clear, the public deserved the strongest possible protections against these dangers, and a transparent rulemaking process that values public comment and input. While concerned citizens can only wait and see what final rules JCAR approved, the lack of transparency in making this critical decision does not inspire confidence.