The holiday rush: navigating DNR's hearing and comment process

The day after we sent the Department of Natural Resources a letter complaining of their ridiculously limited public hearing process for the fracking rulemaking, the Department announced three additional public hearings around the state in December.  We’re pleased that they did the right thing on that score, anyway – although as we’ve explained, the whole holiday season-timed process remains full of roadblocks to public participation.  Still, don’t say the Department never gave you anything for Christmas.

Members of the public can submit their comments at one of the five hearings and/or in writing.  To aid with the hearings and comments, NRDC has now set up this web page with information, including a model comment letter that people can either alter or leave as is.  Also, for those of you who are seriously hard core, here is an 19-page draft list of all the issues we have identified to date.

This is now the complete list of public hearings concerning the rules, available on the Department’s web site:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
750 S. Halsted Street, Student Center East, Room 302
Chicago, IL 60607

Note: to obtain the most accurate directions online, search for 750 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60607. Parking is available across the street at the Halsted Street Parking Structure.
View Map 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Rend Lake College Theater
468 North Ken Gray Parkway
Ina, IL 62846
View Map

Thursday, December 5, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Holiday Inn Effingham, Hotel Ballroom
1301 Avenue of MidAmerica
Effingham, IL 62401
View Map

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Decatur Civic Center, Auditorium
#1 Gary K. Anderson Plaza
Decatur, IL 62523
View Map

Thursday, December 19, 2013
6:00pm-8:00pm (Doors open at 5:00pm)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC)
Student Center, Ballroom B
1255 Lincoln Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901
View Map

The Department explains on its website that members of the public speaking at the hearings will be limited to 4 minutes each, with the order to be chosen by lottery.  If there is a large turnout at the hearings, 4 minutes per commenter will put them well over their budgeted time of two hours.  We can only hope that DNR will do the right thing and let everyone speak.

DNR “recommends” that people commenting at the hearing specify what specific section of the rules they are talking about.  As we’ve said previously, this is a strange, unfair, and not very workable request.  For a layperson, who may wish to state general views and concerns, it’s confusing and inhibiting.  Even for those of us who are lawyers, our concerns with the regulations often apply to multiple sections at once, or to no particular section in the case of language that was omitted.

Be that as it may, while members of the public should ultimately make whatever comments they see fit, calling DNR’s bluff and citing section numbers will add to the pressure to consider the comments and take them seriously.  For that reason, in our model comment letter, we have identified the specific subpart and section number being referenced. 

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, in commenting at the hearings, is that regardless of DNR’s shenanigans, the law is still the law.  The protections we fought for are in it.  And DNR is bound to follow that law.  Our collective job is to politely but firmly remind them of that.