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Fracking bill in Illinois still on track

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A protester against fracking attends a rally after a House Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol on May 21. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Word was going around over the Memorial Day weekend that a bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Illinois was in trouble because it had lost the support of key environmental groups.

Fracking opponents were saying the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Illinois were switching their support from the regulatory bill to a two-year moratorium.


Gov. Pat Quinn (John White~Sun-Times)

A concealed carry bill that would wipe out all Chicago and Cook County gun laws sailed through the Democrat-controlled Illinois House today by an 85-30 vote, even though it was opposed by many of the state's top Democrats.

Here's what Gov. Pat Quinn said after the vote:

"This legislation is wrong for Illinois.

"It was wrong yesterday in committee, it's wrong today, and it's wrong for the future of public safety in our state.

"The principle of home rule is an important one. As written, this legislation is a massive overreach that would repeal critical gun safety ordinances in Chicago, Cook County, and across Illinois.

"We need strong gun safety laws that protect the people of our state. Instead, this measure puts public safety at risk.

"I will not support this bill and I will work with members of the Illinois Senate to stop it in its tracks."

Nuclear waste plan poses risks for Illinois

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A man in a protective suit works next to a locomotive Monday in Wetteren, Belgium, where hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and exploded last week. Some environmentalists worry about a similar scene in Illinois involving radioactive waste. (Virginie Lefour/AFP/Getty Images)

Back in the 1970s, then-Illinois Attorney General William J. Scott kept vowing he would not let Illinois become the "nuclear dumping ground of the nation."

But a proposal in the U.S. Senate that would create "centralized interim storage" sites for nuclear waste has some environmentalists worried that Illinois could become home to much more radioactive waste and also vulnerable to spilled waste if freights carrying it through the state derail. A discussion draft is open until May 24.

Critics have said the plan would make Illinois the "bulls-eye" for nuclear waste.

Why fracking pact is stalled in the Legislature

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FRACKING-1.JPGOutdoor enthusiasts, tourists, climbers and backpackers at Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area near Herod, Ill. Southern Illinoisans have hopes and fears surrounding the high-volume oil and gas drilling that may be starting in the Shawnee National Forest. (Seth Perlman~AP)

UPDATE 11:15 AM MAY 21, 2013: The Illinois House Executive Committee unanimously passed the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act (Senate Bill 1715).

After a year of negotiations over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Illinois, a compromise that could be a model for the nation is snagged over a simple question.

What exactly is fracking, anyway?

Burge torture investigations take a step forward

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Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge departs the federal building in Chicago on May 24, 2010, (Charles Rex Arbogast~AP)

No one wanted to handle the alleged Jon Burge torture cases. Not Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Not the state appellate prosecutor. Not the state's attorneys of 12 counties.

So on Tuesday, Cook County Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel Jr., back to Square One, appointed retired Judge Stuart A. Nudelman as special prosecutor to handle the state's side of the cases. If there is a sense of deja vu here, it's because Biebel previously - back in 2009 - also had appointed Nudelman as a special prosecutor in different Burge-related torture cases. (A number of those cases have been disposed of since then.)

But more than 100 men still claim they've been languishing in prison because of statements extracted through torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Burge and his Midnight Crew in the 1970s and 1980s. The process of investigating these men's claims, though, had ground to a halt.

Tuesday's ruling will get things moving forward again in two ways.

Arboretum's messages for Chicago

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The Morton Arboretum had messages for Chicagoans fluttering from downtown trees Friday. The tags are put up volunteers and staff from the arboretum and BMO Harris Bank.

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@CST_Editorials.

Privatization oversight ordinance stalls again

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Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media photo

A proposal to add some oversight to city privatization deals was still being kept pretty much out of sight this week.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) introduced the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance last November, but it has languished in Ald. Dick Mell's (33rd) Rules Committee since then.

The ordinance, for which a majority of the City Council members have signed on as co-sponsors, would require a hearing on privatization proposals involving an asset valued at $250,000 or more. It also would require a cost-effectiveness study, competitive bidding and other reforms. The city's disastrous parking meter privatization has provided impetus for such a reform.

But the ordinance wasn't on the Rules Committee agenda Wednesday, and Mell didn't say when it will be placed on the agenda, if ever.

"My belief is there is a desire for it not to go any further," Ald. Sawyer said Wednesday in an interview with WTTW.

Watch the WTTW video here.

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@CST_Editorials

New labor tactic in downtown worker strike

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Workers from fast food and retail chains along State Street walk off their jobs Wednesday in a protest for higher wages. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Starting at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, workers walked off the job at about 30 downtown establishments, seeking higher wages. Affected locations included Subway, McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Macy's, Sears and Victoria's Secret.

The labor action was conducted by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which was formed Nov. 15. It uses the slogan, "Fight for 15," meaning wages of $15 an hour. Right now, the workers average under $10.

It's a new labor tactic because the workers are not employed by the same company. They don't even work in the same industry.

Whether they can succeed, building up their numbers, remains to be seen.

Illinois' minimum wage now stands at $8.25, a dollar higher than the federal minimum. Some business leaders say raising wages would force businesses to lay off workers or cut their hours.

Why Chicago has stake in saving Mississippi delta

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Barricades block flooded Main Street in Grafton, Ill., Monday, near its intersection with Illinois Route 3 along the flooding Mississippi River. (AP Photo/The Telegraph, John Badman)

The erosion of the MIssissippi River delta in Louisiana might not seem like Chicago's problem, but a group of environmentalists was in town last week for The Big River Works leadership forum to argue it is.

Chicago has substantial commercial barge traffic that connects to the Mississippi, and much of the rest of the state uses the river to ship its grain, they said. But rapid erosion of the delta - the largest loss of land on the planet - is threatening New Orleans' port, and if that goes, Illinois will lose significant access to world markets, they said.

How to keep water clean? Drink beer

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Unhappy how the Clean Water Act has taken it on the chin over the years? For Earth Day, maybe it's time to drown your sorrows.

At least, that's the idea of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has teamed up with 21 craft breweries to get out the word about clean water. Six of the 21 breweries in "Brewers for Clean Water" are in the Chicago area.

The idea is the brainchild of Karen Hobbs, who used to be a Chicago deputy environment commissioner and now does a lot of water policy work for the NRDC. Beermakers rely on clean water (beer is 90 percent water), and something she saw on a craft beer social media site got the beer keg rolling, so to speak. So people will be gathering Monday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Galleria Marchetti, 825 W. Erie Street, Chicago, for an NRDC fund-raiser, tasting beer from Finch's, Flossmoor Station, Goose Island, Half Acre, Revolution, and Wild Onion. Tickets are $50. The Gemini Club will perform.

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