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Illinois Legislators Face Backlash for Coal Mining Bill

5 min read

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.

Mary Ellen DeClue

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