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When Barack Obama announced his Presidential campaign in Springfield, Illinois he spoke of climate change.


Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars. We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world. Let's be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we did here.
Obama was the first major party nominee for President who made climate change a central theme included in every major campaign speech. He even showed politicians how to make it sound poetic. It helped elect him twice. Climate change or clean energy policy was a significant portion of every State of the Union address. That's something environmentalists should celebrate for what it says about the electoral appeal of the issue.

Nearly seven weeks after she announced her campaign for President, Hillary Clinton has yet to make a noticeable statement on climate change. At her first campaign speech in South Carolina Wednesday she didn't mention it all, despite the threat of more hurricanes hitting the state.

The best gesture for the climate movement so far is a tweet from an adviser. It's a disappointing step backward from having climate take center stage.

It's a risky move since Clinton already has a credibility problem on climate. Her most significant actions to date are promoting fracking as Secretary of State and allowing oil industry influence to corrupt the state department process on Keystone XL pipeline. The climate crisis requires bold, aggressive action against entrenched corporate special interests, which isn't a style of politics Clinton is known for.

Clinton will probably have an easy time getting endorsements from beltway green groups hoping to gain influence. But as Pat Quinn learned in Illinois, and Mark Udall learned in Colorado, promoting regulated fracking is a tough sell to environmental voters no matter what endorsements a candidate can brag about. Without a major change to her campaign, primary voters will be forced to look elsewhere for a climate champion.

After making a joke in South Carolina about coloring her hair, Clinton claimed, "you're not going to see me shrink from a fight." But so far, she's ducking the most urgent fight of our time.

Discuss

Illinois State Senator Andy Manar is getting pushback from constituents after introducing a bill to help the heavily subsidized state coal mining industry.

A coal industry lobbyist with Foresight Energy joined Manar and other legislators at a press conference for a bill to give Illinois coal an advantage over imports. Roughly 90% of coal burned in Illinois is imported from other states because power plant operators are too cheap to install better pollution controls.

Their press release claims Manar and Senator John Bradley introduced the bill to ensure coal is part of the discussion in negotiations over state energy policy. How sweet of them to look out for poor, overlooked Foresight Energy after it donated only $185,600 to Illinois politicians this year!

Coal is already king of corporate welfare in Illinois. Mining equipment is exempt from the state sales tax, it's heavily subsidized by the Coal Development Office, and it doesn't pay an excise tax levied in other coal producing states. Despite all the extra help, Foresight Energy is still worried their Illinois mines can't compete in a competitive market.

Montgomery county resident Mary Ellen DeClue sent me a copy of a letter she wrote to Senator Manar in response to his coal bill. It's so good I asked permission to share it online.


Dear Senator Manar:
Your interest and concerns about the citizens in central and southern Illinois are appreciated.  As you have acknowledged, our citizens deserve community development and an economic improvement plan.  Observing the aftermath of coal extraction across the world, the U S, West Virginia, and especially Saline County, Illinois, coal is not the progressive sustainable solution for Illinois counties.

The proposed legislation to jump start the Illinois coal industry is misguided and counterproductive. The coal industry in Illinois needs no promotion or development. The coal industry in Illinois is already entrenched in the political system.  This is not due to the positive connections to communities, citizens, and economic benefits, but rather to undue influence of corporate funding and favoritism of Illinois agencies.

The state of Illinois has lost revenue from coal mining. The benefits bestowed on the coal industry have increased profits and liberties to coal entrepreneurs. The quality of life in coal communities is compromised by polluted air and water, damaged farmland, lower property values, higher taxes, unhealthy exposure to coal dust, and inundation and leakage from high hazard coal slurry impoundments.

Coal mining adversely affects communities by extracting more than just coal from them.  The citizens realize they have no more control over their daily lives.  When a government’s public policy establishes corporate profits over the rights of citizens, the spirit of a community is lost. Communities deserve better.

There are presently 8000 coal jobs and 130,000 jobs in renewable energy in Illinois.  If coal miners had a choice of jobs that were not hazardous and did not expose them to black lung disease, don’t you think they would prefer not risking their lives in order to earn a living?  Why aren’t there more efforts to increase job choices in central and southern Illinois?

The negative aspects of coal mining have been enhanced by the tragic actions of the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals. The mismanagement of Shay 1 indicates just how vulnerable citizens in a community really are. The current status of Shay 1 must be a disappointment to you. Off mine-site contamination has progressed over a decade while more coal waste disposal continues.  There is no additional monitoring to document contamination from the unknown amounts of imported coal ash and underground injection of coal slurry. West Virginia has a moratorium on coal slurry injection in mine voids because of ground water contamination. Illinois has not only approved underground coal slurry injection at Shay 1, but subsidizes the process. DCEO awarded Foresight Reserves LP, associate of Foresight Energy, a grant of $1,022,602 to use for coal slurry injection, a conveyor train, and safety equipment at Shay 1 starting in 3/1/2014 and ending in 2/28/2016. The state is actually funding ongoing pollution and the regulatory agencies continue to legalize pollution by approving permits that compromise the safety of communities.

Deer Run Mine is a poster example of how a community is blighted by coal with full approval of IOMM and IEPA. The careless disregard for the health and safety of thousands of residents through government actions is very troubling. The community has no recourse to coal dust, contaminated water discharges, threatening inundation from 2 impoundments, permanently placed high hazard impoundments, subsided farmland, destroyed water resources, etc. IOMM never hesitated approving the location of the coal processing plant next to the hospital or the placement of the 318-acre impoundment where upon failure would destroy life and property of several communities. This second impoundment is 200 feet away from the first 80 foot high 140-acre impoundment and both remain forever in Hillsboro. There are no air monitors to document fugitive coal dust so residents do not know what they are breathing. The mine discharges are analyzed for pH, chloride, and sulfate only, so citizens have no idea of what chemicals or what quantities are contaminating their surface waters. The higher conductance of surface waters around the mine does speak to an increase in contaminants. It is unacceptable that the most harmful chemicals found in coal are not monitored, yet are allowed to permeate the community.

The state energy policies do indeed need to be addressed, but I fear the wrong direction for public policy will be endorsed.  The photo-op of legislators with Foresight Energy’s lead lobbyist sends a message that investment in Foresight Energy will earn favors in Illinois coal permits. The known contributions of Foresight Energy to Illinois lawmakers are published and part of the public record.“Pay to play” or the perception of such must be addressed by citizens and legislators so that Illinois can climb out of the lack of trust hole.

Most importantly, the citizens of central and southern Illinois need job availability other than the polluting, unhealthful effects of coal production as a new direction for livelihoods and community development.

Sincerely,
Mary Ellen DeClue

Discuss

Illinois' largest public utility will now be overseen by a mayor who pledged to keep renewable energy as part of its energy mix.

Springfield's Democratic Mayor-elect Jim Langfelder deserves credit for talking about clean energy. Some candidates avoided the topic because it's controversial after a wind power contract became more costly than expected. With most local news outlets focused on utility finances and rate increases, Langfelder could have avoided taking a clear position on where our power comes from.

But voters were given a real choice between a modern energy mix with renewable energy or "we've always done it that way." Scare tactics about clean energy causing rate increases didn't work this time. Springfield is already a better clean energy leader than Chicago and now the progress can continue.

Coal was being mined in Springfield when Abraham Lincoln represented the city in the state legislature. But this year, a new clean energy future was a winning issue in a coal-country election.

Discuss

Nearly half of Illinois voters oppose fracking, according to a new poll by the Simon Institute. The statewide poll reveals 48.6% oppose fracking while only 31.8% believe it should be encouraged, even if there are economic benefits. Opponents outnumber supporters an all regions of the state, including downstate where fracking is promoted as a jobs plan.

The numbers reinforce that fracking is one of the issues which cost Governor Pat Quinn support among Democrats and independents in his losing re-election campaign. Illinois Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose fracking with 61.9% against and 19.7% in favor. Independents oppose it as well, with 48.3% against and 30.6% in support.

Any Illinois candidate looking for support from young voters should stand against fracking. A whopping 74% of 18-24 year-olds don't want it.

A solid 54% majority of Chicago residents are opposed. That's a bad sign for Rahm Emanuel who claims his aggregation deal is a clean energy victory, even though it powers Chicago with natural gas from the Marcellus shale fracking fields.

An election analysis released in January by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute identified low turnout among Democrats, and downstate opposition as reasons for Governor Pat Quinn losing re-election. During the campaign Quinn faced protests against his support for fracking, and as this poll shows, his position is unpopular among the Democratic base. With neither candidate for Governor taking a position against fracking, it left little reason for concerned voters to show up on election day.

There's no issue for which politicians and lobbyists in the statehouse bubble are more out of touch with Illinois voters than on fracking.

After a bill to regulate and launch fracking passed the Illinois legislature, industry lobbyists launched a campaign to portray opponents as a tiny fringe. Overwhelming public outcry against fracking at public hearings provided a reality check. A few accommodating statehouse green groups helped reinforced the false impression that regulation is a consensus middle ground. The Simon poll shows industry claims that fracking opposition is limited to a small group are outrageously false.

Some statehouse Democrats are still out of touch. Central Illinois Senator Dave Koehler recently introduced an amendment to the Illinois Clean Jobs bill that would allow some utilities to pay for converting coal plants to natural gas with a new fee charged to customers. The act creates a market-based carbon auction that may push coal plant operators to make minor upgrades or convert to natural gas. Koehler's amendment would help utilities to keep aging, polluting plants running at ratepayer expense rather than investing in new clean energy.

Most Illinois fracking is on hold, at least temporarily, due to low oil prices. Yet, the issue could play a roll in the 2016 election, particularly in Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate and Congress. Although some Democrats, like Pat Quinn and former Colorado Senator Mark Udall, have supported fracking regulation as a compromise middle crowd, it's a position that alienates voters on both sides of the issue while gaining support from no one but industry donors. Democratic candidates in a competitive primary would be smart to support a ban on fracking.

The poll question adopts a "jobs v. the environment" narrative which assumes fracking would benefit the economy. But, many residents oppose fracking because they don't believe another boom and bust extraction cycle will help the downstate economy. Most people don't want to locate their business or home in a community with poisoned water and air.

Low oil prices and public opposition provide an opportunity for downstate Illinois to build a healthy economy without the destructive impacts of fracking. As the poll shows, many voters are looking for leaders who offer more than empty assurances that regulation will make fracking safe or provide good jobs.

Discuss

When Rahm Emanuel became mayor, the city of Chicago was making lists of top green cities in America. During the election he pledged support to a community movement aimed at closing the polluting Fisk & Crawford coal plants. But after taking office, Emanuel significantly increased Chicago's use of fossil fuels by negotiating an energy aggregation deal that takes 95% of its power from natural gas.

Residents scored a victory for healthy communities when a grassroots movement forced closure of the Fisk & Crawford plants. Just as important is how we replace deadly coal power. After Chicago resolved a local environmental justice problem, Emanuel created a new one by switching to a power source that harms people in more distant, rural communities.

Rahm's fracking aggregation contract prompted expansion of the Marcus Hook natural gas plant in Pennsylvania. The plant is served by a new pipeline transporting natural gas from the Marcellus shale where thousands of fracking wells are causing a social and environmental crisis.

Internationally recognized biologist Sandra Steingraber is an Illinois native who co-founded New Yorkers Against Fracking. She sent a powerful response when I asked her why Chicagoans should care about dirty energy aggregation.


I grew up Illinois coal country, just downwind from a massive, coal-burning power plant that sent all its power north to Chicago. When I was in high school, in the 1970s, that plant was the biggest polluter in the state, and everyone in my home town of Pekin all suffered from breathing its emissions. My 84-year-old mom, a life-long non-smoker, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. And because that coal, when it burned, sent mercury raining down on our river, the local fish became too poisoned to eat.

Unfortunately, Chicago residents have been sold a bill of goods by officials who misrepresented a switch from coal to natural gas as 'clean' energy. Natural gas, predominately extracted by fracking, is anything but clean, and once again, people far from Chicagoland will suffer so that Chicagoans can turn on the lights. This time, it's Pennsylvania children living in the shale fields, rather than downstate Illinois kids living by the strip mines, whose health will be sacrificed. So, how is that progress?

For the climate, extraction by fracking results in tremendous leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more damaging for the climate than carbon dioxide over 20 years. For people, those living near fracking suffer a range of health ailments including respiratory illnesses, birth defects, and the threat of contaminated water and earthquakes. Chicagoans deserve better than false representations of natural gas as a clean power source; they need true leadership that boldly moves to renewable energy.

Emanuel called aggregation a "clean energy" victory because it doesn't include coal. The city's claim of reducing pollutants that cause climate change depends on two questionable assumptions. First, they compared the new energy supply to a single quarter when Exelon bought more coal power on the market than it often does. Second, they failed to acknowledge the release of methane during the fracking and transportation of natural gas.

The contract also includes a 5% slice of wind power. That amount slowly increases at the minimum rate set by the Illinois renewable portfolio standard.

Other Illinois towns went far beyond Emanuel's 5% wind gesture. Ninety-one communities chose 100% renewable energy, including the city of Evanston, plus downstate towns like Peoria, DecaturNormal, Carbondale, and even Coal City. Springfield's public utility has contracted with two wind farms for nearly ten years to provide 20% capacity of their customer energy use. Chicago went from being a national clean energy leader to a statewide slacker compared to more conservative Illinois towns.

Some residents, like Rising Tide Chicago member Angela Viands, are finding clean alternatives. "After looking at where the power comes from, my household opted out of aggregation and found a renewable energy supplier. Rahm pledged to be a clean energy champion during the election four years ago but he didn't live up to his promise as using fracked gas is anything but clean."

Illinois Sierra Club Director Jack Darin didn't specifically mention aggregation at Chicago's climate action rally last September but he made an apt comment. "How we act on climate is just as important as doing it. You'll hear some billionaires and corporations say that acting on climate means more fossil fuels. That fracturing the earth is somehow part of saving the earth. That's crazy and in Illinois we say no to that."

On his most important decision about Chicago's energy future, Rahm went with the crazy option of fracking more fossil fuels.

Discuss

Happy birthday Abraham Lincoln!

When Lincoln anniversaries come around I sometimes enjoy comparing the views of the first Republican president to the Republican party of today. Tax policies offer a stark contrast. Lincoln supported progressive income tax structures that asked the rich to pay their fair share.

As a member of the Illinois state legislature, Lincoln defended a property tax because it would mostly be paid by the wealthy. Paul Simon's book, Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness, quotes Lincoln's letter on the tax.


...I believe it can be sustained, because it does not increase the tax upon the "many poor" but upon the "wealthy few" by taxing the land that is worth $50 or $100 per acre, in proportion to its value, instead of, as heretofore, no more than that which was worth $5 per acre. This valuable land, as is well known, belongs, not to the poor, but to the wealthy citizen.

On the other hand, the wealthy can not justly complain, because the change is equitable within itself, and also a sine qua non to a compliance with the Constitution. If, however, the wealthy should, regardless of the justness of the complaint, complain of the change, it is still to be remembered, that they are not sufficiently numerous to carry the elections.
Very Respectfully,
A. Lincoln

We live in different times. The voice of the wealthy few manage to outweigh the many poor in most elections thanks to unrestricted campaign spending. Illinois' new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has discussed supporting a sales tax increase that would place a greater burden on the middle class and poor, rather than the 1% Lincoln preferred taxing.

As President, Lincoln created the first income tax. It was so progressive that most Americans paid nothing at all. Republicans today sometimes complain that half of Americans supposedly pay no income tax. That's exactly what Lincoln had in mind when he established a tax on those most able to pay.

Somehow, Lincoln's populist views sound more modern and relevant than today's Republican party that's captured by perpetually complaining billionaires.

Discuss

One of Bruce Rauner's first appointments as Governor is a troubling sign for citizens hoping he'll protect the public and environment from toxic pollutants. Rauner's new Policy Adviser for Environment & Energy is Alec Messina, previously Executive Director and registered lobbyist for the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group (IERG).

At IERG, Messina represented the interests of some of the state's largest polluters, including Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil, Chris Cline's Foresight Energy, Prairie State Generating Company, Dynegy Midwest Generation, Ameren, ADM and others. Messina previously worked for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency during the Blagojevich administration.

IERG was founded by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to help their members study and influence regulation. They comment on proposed rules and often assist companies that argue for delaying compliance. The group has argued for expediting and "streamlining" the process of attaining permits for major sources of pollution in order to create a more business-friendly climate.

Rauner's report released this week outlining an agenda for the state echoes those demands in its recommendations for energy and the environment. Although the report avoids the overused "all of the above energy" cliche, it suggests policies similar to Quinn and Blagojevich that would promote renewable energy as well as dirty sources, including coal and fracked gas.

The report criticizes the time it takes for agencies to approve permits and recommends cutting "unnecessary energy and environmental policies that impede business." There are no specifics about whether speedy permitting would be achieved by limiting public involvement and thorough study. Messina's background dealing with regulatory minutia gives him the expertise to make obscure, subtle rule changes that could have profound impacts on the environment and public health.

On the positive side, Ruaner's team emphasizes energy efficiency with healthy criticism of the state for failing to meet its reduction goals. However, it also calls for increasing energy exports. Promoting efficiency and renewable energy within Illinois won't bring relief to communities impacted by increased extraction of fossil fuels intended for export. Additionally, the report calls for increasing staff to quickly approve permits for fracking, but doesn't mention hiring additional staff to enforce compliance with the new law.

Rauner distinguished himself among Republicans during the campaign by acknowledging the scientific reality of climate change. Yet, Rauner's report includes more than a dozen calls for changing the business climate while making no mention of addressing the global climate crisis.

Despite some negative signals, Rauner won't have an easy time compiling a worse record than departing Governor Pat Quinn, whose most significant actions on energy policy include launching fracking, expanding coal mining, creating new coal subsidies, and giving a pollution waiver to five aging coal power plants.

Discuss

Illinois environmentalists are cheering the spectacular success of the movement to ban fracking in New York. The victory is justifiably spurring reflection on how it was done. What happened in New York that Illinois environmentalists can learn from?

  • Environmental and public health groups made an unambiguous, united push for a ban or moratorium, not regulation.
  • They kept constant, aggressive grassroots pressure on Governor Cuomo and other politicians, especially during election season.
  • State government conducted a thorough study on potential public health impacts before fracking began.
  • They took the fight to small towns and potentially impacted rural areas, not just New York City.
  • As Mark Ruffalo wrote, "The fact that we didn't let the big greens come in and make back room deals was also important to note."
  • They engaged in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, including over 90 arrests near Seneca Lake since October.

Essentially, New York fractivists took the opposite approach of most big green groups active in the Illinois statehouse.

Illinois greens started with a basic chemical disclosure bill several years ago rather than organizing the passionate grassroots desire for a ban. Although there were efforts to ask legislators to pass a moratorium, statehouse green groups remained focused on various regulatory bills. Some of them eventually won a seat at the negotiating table with industry lobbyists to write a regulatory law by ignoring the loud and frequent objection of environmentalists in impacted areas who said regulation cannot make fracking safe.

During the past year, pro-regulation groups joined Governor Pat Quinn in remaining silent about his unpopular support for fracking. Sierra Club even issued a greenwash endorsement of Quinn as a "climate leader" despite his horrible record on fossil fuel extraction.

Several groups continued to engage in the regulatory process without meaningful buy-in or communication with the downstate anti-fracking movement. They tell environmental audiences they prefer a ban, but told legislators they'll settle for regulation. The result is a deeply divided movement that's less effective on all energy issues.

What's next for Illinois?

More fractivists are focusing on county government, like a victory lead by Illinois People's Action to stop a proposed oil drill in McLean county. Union county is forming a group to study the impacts of fracking and conventional drilling at the urging of the Shawnee Sentinels. There's a good reason why Illinois law doesn't allow counties to ban fracking. Some of them would actually do it.

In southern Illinois, lifelong residents and grandmothers are training to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to stop fracking operations. Additionally, momentum is building to form a coalition similar to New York that will coordinate statewide action between groups.

Illinoisans made their opposition to fracking clear through unprecedented participation in the public hearing process and by choosing not to show up for Pat Quinn on election day. But the industry's farcical campaign to marginalize fractivists as a tiny fringe continues to have lingering influence among legislators and reporters in the statehouse. One result is inadequate coverage given to the anti-fracking movement. Fractivists can't rely on regional news outlets traditionally sympathetic to fossil fuel interests to get our message out.

What the movement does next year won't make the impact it should if most of the public and politicians don't hear about it. That's why I'm launching a new way for the movement to generate accurate, full coverage of how extraction industries are impacting the state.

Illinois environmentalists had discouraging setbacks in 2014. Resolving to follow New York's example will bring more success in 2015.

Discuss

After reading a report that included descriptions of horrific acts like "forced rectal feeding," the only thing Senator Ted Cruz chose to condemn is Democrats. In a statement on his website he blames Democrats releasing the report, and not torture itself, for damaging America's reputation in the world.

“Within 48 hours, President Obama has set Guantanamo Bay detainees free, and Senate Democrats have endangered Americans all over the world by releasing classified tactics, which have since rightly been outlawed, used by the intelligence community in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Democrats’ foreign policy – defined by a series of actions designed to appease our enemies and diminish the capability and morale of our military men and women – is profoundly dangerous."

“Every civilized nation agrees that torture is wrong. But today’s partisan report will endanger lives, drive away our allies – who have never been more needed than now – and undermine the ability of our intelligence officers and soldiers to protect our national security."

Torture isn't the problem. Lying about torture isn't the problem. Democrats telling the truth is the only problem worth mentioning, according to Cruz.

Clearly, Cruz is the one turning something profoundly serious into a partisan cheap shot. He's taking the conservative talk radio habit of projection to absurd levels.

What kind of person sees something as serious as what's in this torture report and has no response other than taking a cheap shot at the other party? This is a man with no sense of shame and no moral compass outside of hatred for the other party.

Discuss

Any news outlet that distributes information unflattering to Republicans or views out of step with conservative ideology will be hounded with cries of "liberal media bias." The badgering will continue until all news outlets are as "fair and balanced" as Fox News. But the most consequential expression of bias in the press is in what stories are covered and what's ignored.

I checked reporting staff listed on four of downstate Illinois' largest newspapers: The Peoria Journal-Star, Belleville News-Democrat, State Journal-Register, and Southern Illinoisan. They list 25 sports writers and editors between them. They name zero editors or reporters primarily dedicated to energy, climate change, and the environment. That's your media bias.

The same problem exists in national news outlets but the impacts hit harder in local news. The most important stories are sometimes covered by reporters who have limited subject background. Fewer environmental stories are covered at all. And when there's news about a fertilizer plant opening in central Illinois, for example, no one mentions that they're some of the most potentially dangerous facilities for workers and the environment.

I should acknowledge that I've been interviewed by a number of excellent reporters who do a good job covering energy issues. In particular, Springfield's alternative weekly, Illinois Times, has been picking up the stories others ignore for years. The Harrisburg Daily-Register doesn't shy away from asking tough questions about the coal industry. The best pro-environment editorials in the Southern are usually from, ironically enough, Sports Editor Les Winkeler.

But it's disappointing that there aren't more exceptions. Many other good reporters are limited by the decisions their publisher and editor make about assigning resources.

Newspapers often write about the influence campaign contributions have on politicians. I'd like to see the same principles of disclosure applied to the news industry. Why not release an annual report about advertising revenue from the fossil fuel industry plus the financial interests of media parent companies? Call me a cynic but I suspect those financial factors have something to do with the for-profit media's failure to focus on pollution and climate change.

What should we do then? There's no shortage of stories to be covered in Illinois with the recent expansion of coal mining, the threat of fracking, the future of coal plants on the line, and clean energy struggling to expand its presence. Twenty-five reporters wouldn't be enough!

This is why I'm launching Illinois Energy Justice. The site will chronicle energy issues from the front lines of the state's energy transition with writing by myself and others. It will also be a collaboration with grassroots groups to highlight their work on coal, fracking and clean energy.

My kickstarter page will fund the launch of a website and expenses for my first round of stories focusing on the work of grassroots groups opposed to fracking. I've broken several stories missed by others, including the state mine safety regulator who was taking political donations from a coal mine operator, and millions in state grants going to coal industry pork projects. I'd like to break many more.

If you're tired of environmental stories and viewpoints not getting the coverage they deserve, now is the time to do something about it by donating.

Discuss

Hillary Clinton did us a favor. At a recent speech to the League of Conservation Voters, Clinton showed that she doesn't understand what it will take to confront the climate crisis and she's unwilling to stand up to fossil fuel interests who are threatening to destroy civilization.

Even after climate scientists warned we must keep most fossil fuel reserves in the ground, Clinton still advocates natural gas as a "bridge" fuel. It's ridiculous. There's no credible evidence to show that fracking and building more natural gas infrastructure will reduce CO2 emissions to the levels needed.

Clinton made favorable comments about Keystone XL during the 2008 campaign and has refused to speak out against it since then. She dodged the topic again in her latest speech. Her staff at the State Department helped the oil industry influence environmental impact studies in favor of the pipeline. Is that the kid of influence we can expect the fossil fuel industry to have in a Clinton White House?

“Our economy still runs primarily on fossil fuels and trying to change that will take strong leadership,” Clinton said. “The political challenges are also unforgiving. There is no getting around the fact that the kind of ambitious response required to effectively combat climate change is going to a be a tough sell at home and around the world at a time when so many countries around the world, including our own, are grappling with slow growth and stretch budgets.”

She could have shown she'll provide that leadership and work to make the tough sell by speaking out against fracking and Keystone XL. She failed.

Bill Clinton is the Neville Chamberlain of the climate crisis because he took politically easy, ineffective steps at a time when bold leadership could have saved us. It doesn't appear that Hillary has learned from her husband's failure.

Civilization needs a leader who understands the crisis and has the political courage to make the fight. We need a climate leader who's serious about winning the Democratic nomination for President. Clinton just told us that leader isn't her.

Discuss

This was a difficult election for Democrats and it was even worse for Democrats still pushing fossil fuels. The Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus lost his seat along with a slew of others who tried to prove they're as pro-coal, pro-oil, and pro-fracking as any Republican.

There are plenty of examples like Grimes in Kentucky. Or Tennant and Nick Rahall in West Virginia who mimicked conservative talking points on coal in their losing races. Mary Landrieau is expected to lose in a Louisiana run-off. If you can't run on clean energy and climate change in a state that saw hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster then you're an incompetent politician.

No state made the point more clearly than Illinois, where Democrats serious about climate won re-election while fossil fuel Democrats lost. Governor Pat Quinn once bragged about passing a bill to launch fracking along with lead Senate sponsor Mike Frerichs. Quinn lost re-election after spending months avoiding the issue (and anti-fracking protesters).

Mike Frerichs, who has been viewed as an environmental leader in the past, is still second place in a close count for state Treasurer. He raised climate change and clean energy early in the race but dropped the issue after realizing most of the environmental movement is unhappy with his lead role in launching fracking. Most environmental voters aren't nearly as happy with the fracking law as the four statehouse green groups who supported it.

An upset few predicted six months ago is the loss of incumbent Congressman Bill Enyart to confessed dog-killer Mike Bost. The Democratic district hasn't elected a Republican in 70 years but has a long coal mining history. Enyart became Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus with John Shimkus, who's best known outside Illinois as the Republican who conducted a failed investigation and helped cover up the Foley Congressional page sex scandal.

What did pandering to the coal industry accomplish for Enyart? He lost by a wide margin, getting just 39%. The Green Party candidate increased her vote share to over 6%. Voter turnout was roughly half what it was in 2012. Southern Illinois Democrats had little motivation to vote with the top of the ticket, Governor Pat Quinn, angering them by cutting public employee pensions, closing important regional facilities, and launching fracking.

The coal industry didn't give Enyart a money advantage either. His fundraising was lower than most incumbents in competitive races. His opponent received larger donations from many fossil fuel interests, including Knight Hawk Coal and Koch Industries. No matter how pro-coal a Democrat tries to be, the industry can always find a Republican who will promise more.

It didn't work for central Illinois candidate Ann Callis running in one of the nation's most closely divided Congressional districts. After getting a Sierra Club endorsement in the primary, over two opponents with better environmental platforms, she expressed her support  for more spending on clean coal and promised to not support President Obama on new clean air rules because they wouldn't create enough coal jobs. By trying to find a safe middle ground she managed to make both sides of the debate unhappy.

Callis won a disappointing 41% despite a more liberal Democrat losing by only 1,000 votes two years ago. She's an appealing candidate in many ways but Democrats and independents I spoke to felt like her play-it-safe, issue-avoidant campaign never gave people a reason to vote for her.

Being a fossil fuel Democrat clearly isn't working anymore. It's not going to get any easier as support for taking action on climate change grows. What should Democrats do now?

The next candidate who runs on creating a new energy economy in places like southern Illinois and eastern Kentucky may lose. Attitudes change slowly.

Democrats have two choices.
1) Run candidates who make unconvincing appeals that the're just as pro-coal as the Republican and continue losing year after year while never changing the conventional wisdom.
2) Talk about creating new energy economies in a way that builds support to win next time.

Political parties don't like to think beyond the next upcoming election, but it's going to take a long term strategy for Democrats to regain ground in post-coal country. Running on a new message may not work right away, but hey, the pro-coal Democrat is going to lose anyway. You might as well build for the future by honestly telling people we have to attract new energy jobs because the old coal jobs are never coming back.

It's only a matter of how long it takes party leaders to accept that fossil fuel Democrats aren't coming back either.

Discuss
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