MARION — A broad range of supporters called on Gov. Pat Quinn to “quit playing politics” and fast track administrative rules needed to implement the state’s Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act.
The act was signed into law more than a year ago, yet the rulemaking process appears stalled in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the agency charged with revising the draft rules, supporters said.
The agency has hired only four of the anticipated 53 employees needed for the process and the release of final rules may come too late for many companies that have invested in the region, supporters warned during a news conference sponsored by GROW-IL, a coalition focused on enacting “common sense” hydraulic fracturing, at the offices of Laborers 773 in Marion Tuesday.
The state and region are losing money every day that the hydraulic fracturing industry can’t operate, state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said.
“This is an opportunity we can’t miss,” he said. “Enough is enough. Let’s get this thing going.”
An overwhelming majority of lawmakers, he said, approved the legislation, which was the product of a diverse group, including representatives from environmental groups, the fracking industry and state agencies like DNR, EPA and Attorney General’s Office.
Mark Denzler, vice president and COO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, accused the Quinn administration of intentionally delaying the rulemaking process.
“In my opinion and based on conversations with some folks in the governor’s office, they believe that by slowing us down, it gives them an advantage in the election. I think they need environmental advocates on the governor’s side and they’ve been told essentially to wait (to finish the rules) until November or later, after the election, to do it,” he said. “Again, it’s been 400 days (since the act was signed into law).”
And the clock is ticking, according to supporters, which included representatives from the industry, small business, labor unions, Phelps and Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and mayors Bob Butler of Marion and Vic Ritter of Herrin.
Wayne Woolsey, whose Woolsey Companies hold a large number of leases in the region, said the wait is frustrating.
“We’re already two-and-a-half years into our first four-year leases,” he said. "I’m afraid if we don’t do something soon, we’ll be doing it over in Indiana (instead of Illinois).
The prospect of losing jobs to a nearby state is infuriating to Mayor Bob Butler.
“The state of Illinois seldom does anything right but it did however go in the right direction with the fracking legislation, which seems to be the most strict, toughest legislation of that sort in the country. Then the state reverted back to its usual practice and screwed things up,” he said.
With some of the highest unemployment in the state, the region needs the jobs fracking could bring, he said.
One study predicts the industry could potentially have a $9.5 billion impact on the region and produce upwards of 45,000 jobs annually.
“Illinois is missing out on a major opportunity for job creation, significant tax revenue for local and state governments and our schools, and reduced energy prices, while at the same time decreasing our dependence on foreign sources of energy,” Clint Taylor of the Southern and Central Laborers’ District Council said.
While the group urged the governor and DNR to speed up the rulemaking process, David Blanchette of the governor’s office said the process is on target to meet the statutory deadline of Nov. 15.
Chris Young, DNR spokesman, said the agency is revising the draft rules and making “significant progress toward completion.”
“The revised rules will be submitted to JCAR (Joint Committee on Administrative Rules) so they can be enacted before Nov. 15 -- the deadline set by statute. The rules need to be approved by JCAR by Nov. 15, not just submitted by that date,” he said.
The agency expects to have about 15 people on staff by the end of July and “We are focused on hiring staff who will work in the permitting process first,” he said.