As Johnson County, Illinois prepares to vote on a measure that seeks to ban hydraulic fracturing in the county, anti-fracking advocates are accusing the local newspapers of presenting a one-sided argument.
Concerned Johnson County citizens collected more than a thousand signatures in order to get a resolution on the ballot to approve a community bill of rights that would attempt to ban fracking.
Previously, an environmental law professor had said it would be possible for the state legislature to allow a county to ban fracking.
Retired school teacher Phyllis Oliver is among those supporting the measure. She said since a group opposing the resolution emerged last week, the Vienna Times and its publisher Lonnie Hinton have imposed a ban on material supporting the measure.
“Someone took an ad in - we’ve been taking ads in every Friday so they would go into the paper,” Oliver said. "And they told them that they would no longer be printing any paid-for ads from SAFE [Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment] or anyone else opposing fracking.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the paper’s website featured a “Vote No” ad which linked to the opposition’s Facebook page.
“He [Hinton] exercised his right underneath the free press and his ownership of a business to either publish or not publish anything he so chose,” Garrett said. “Based upon the facts of the information that was being presented he could not verify as being factual.”
Garrett has a vested interest in the resolution’s defeat as the owner surveying firm, Shawnee Professional Services. But he insists the opposition group is not necessarily pro-fracking, but opposed to the community self-governing after comprehensive fracking laws were passed in Illinois last year. Garrett also opposes the idea of earth jurisprudence, which he says the resolution supports.
“We are certainly not in favor of anything that gives the rights of nature and ecosystem a standing above mankind,” Garrett said. “We have a community Bill of Rights – it’s the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”
Oliver said the community bill of rights is more about Johnson County residents having the right to a clean environment.
"We had tried everything else and we decided to try it as a bill of rights, that we as individuals have a right to clean air, clean water and we feel fracking will destroy that," Oliver said.
Johnson County residents go to the polls March 18.