Press Release – No Coal Mine

Decade-long Fight to Stop Illinois’ Last New Coal Mine Succeeds 

Illinois DNR Allows Sunrise Coal’s Bulldog Mine Permit 429 to Expire

Vermilion County, Illinois – In a momentous victory for Illinois water and community activism, the permit for Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog Mine has expired due to lack of use, effectively killing what would have been Illinois’ last new coal mine. The permit, issued by Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), was granted in April 2019 but required the mine to begin operations in some form (even a parking lot would have sufficed) by April 2022 or expire. Sunrise Coal did not break ground or request an extension, and the land reclamation bond has been returned, signaling a permanent end to the proposed mine.

Efforts to stop the Bulldog Mine began over a decade ago when local and regional community members joined together to form Stand Up To Coal (SUTC), a 100% grassroots and volunteer organization. Prairie Rivers Network supported SUTC’s fight to stop the mine from the outset, joining them at public hearings, planning community gatherings, and preparing comments on the potential mine’s impact.

The proposed Bulldog Mine near Homer and Sidell could have caused significant environmental harm in the area and negatively impacted nearby communities. The proposed mine endangered private wells and could have contaminated groundwater due to coal slurry impoundments on the site. Subsidence could have altered the flow of water leading to flooding. Local residents would have suffered from airborne coal dust pollution while nearby streams were poisoned by mine discharge. The Salt Fork of the Vermillion River, beloved for its beauty, biological diversity, and recreational opportunities, would have received discharges from this mine through its tributary, the Olive Branch.

“This victory has taken years of sustained efforts working side-by-side with other organizations and individuals planning, communicating, attending numerous public meetings and hearings, and much more,” says Suzanne Smith of Stand Up To Coal. “The termination of this permit is everything we’ve been fighting for. Our land, our water, and our air are no longer under threat from a future coal mine.”

For years, local residents voiced concerns about the environmental and human health impacts of coal mining – contaminated wells and groundwater, degraded air quality, and a host of leftover toxic chemicals that would remain long after mining ceased.

“This victory is a testament to what community voices can achieve to protect water, protect air, and in the fight against climate change,” says Prairie Rivers Network Water Resources Engineer Andrew Rehn. “The members of Stand Up to Coal should be proud of what they’ve accomplished in stopping the Bulldog Mine. With recent environmental protection setbacks at the national level, local and state activism is going to be more important than ever. Illinois’s last proposed new coal mine is never going to happen, and the state can continue to move towards a clean energy future.”


Stand Up To Coal’s (SUTC) mission is to protect drinking water, high quality productive farmland, and health of communities and natural environments in the Allerton, Broadlands, Fairmount, Homer, and Sidell areas of Champaign and Vermilion Counties in East Central Illinois.

At Prairie Rivers Network (PRN), we protect water, heal land, and inspire change. Using the creative power of science, law, and collective action, we protect and restore our rivers, return healthy soils and diverse wildlife to our lands, and transform how we care for the earth and for each other. PRN is the independent Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.

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March 2021 Update Letter

To All Supporters of Stand Up to Coal,

It’s a new year, but our fight to stop the Bulldog Mine continues. In preparing to write this update, we, the leaders of Stand Up to Coal, focused on two things: First, conveying our gratitude for all that you have done to help accomplish our joint mission of protecting our land, water, and air by opposing the Bulldog Mine and second, conveying the need for additional funds to continue the fight. 

The Need

Your contributions of time and treasure have been generous and profound; they are the reason Sunrise failed to achieve its goal to have the Bulldog Mine up and running next door to Homer in 2014. Seven years later, they still have not broken ground on a mine. This is just one example of how our membership has helped thwart the corporate timeline that Sunrise would like to impose on the Allerton-Fairmount-Homer-Sidell area. As the fight has progressed, so too have the costs to mount a successful opposition. Our last chance to stop their mining permit is a permit challenge (called an “Administrative Review”, see below). For this process, we have hired consulting expert witnesses to argue our case for clean water and air. We are also consulting with an attorney to guide us through the legal maneuvers advanced by Sunrise’s corporate attorneys.  We estimate the total cost of the Administrative Review to be $60,000. As these fees mount up, so do our hopes that you can continue to support the work we all believe in. We have enclosed a self-addressed envelope for this purpose. 

The Background 

Much has happened since 2009 when Sunrise Coal went farm to rural home selling promises and securing signatures. Recounting all the challenges is not possible to do in this letter but among the most daunting were the public hearings before the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. It was in these forums that all our efforts to inform IDNR, IEPA and the public on the threats of the mine paid off. Dozens of people shared legitimate questions and concerns for how this mine would affect their ground water, their streams, the clean fresh air, their cherished farms and fields, their well-being and more.  These expressed views were noted by the IDNR and resulted in Sunrise Coal having to resubmit their mining permit request multiple times. That they did not receive a permit until 2019 (10 years!) is a testament to the vigilance and hard work shared by so many caring people. 

Where We Are Now: Administrative Review

The mining permit was granted, but impacted individuals and organizations have a chance to challenge a granted permit in a process called an Administrative Review. This process tests if the mining permit meets the letter of the law and could result in the permit being rejected. Stand Up To Coal and a number of individual petitioners began this process last year. We have hired consulting experts to review the mining permit and found reason to challenge it. In summer 2020, the IDNR held a hearing to determine if Stand Up To Coal and a number of the individual petitioners had “standing” to challenge the permit. We are still awaiting the result of that hearing. 

The Reason to Keep Fighting

Perhaps the greatest source of strength in this fight is our shared belief that Illinois farmland, farmsteads and the rural/semi-rural lifestyle we have chosen are worth preserving…even treasuring. To these highly valued treasures, we add our good health and the knowledge that coal mining presents many potential obstacles to it. When something that dear is threatened, those who value it must step up in its defense. 

Coal Economics and the Future

Sunrise Coal itself has helped to unveil the truth through their actions in Carlisle, Indiana, when in January 2020, they laid off 90 mine workers and permanently closed the coal mine there. Prior to that 175 workers had been let go due to the waning coal market. This should lay to rest permanently Sunrise’s claim of providing 300 well-paying long term jobs for Vermilion County. Instead of embracing that myth, let’s embrace the reality that the future promises to be one of reduced fossil fuel consumption and carbon pollution. 

Challenging Times

In closing, we thank you in advance for your on-going support and donations to help fund these efforts. We make this request knowing that it comes at an extraordinary time when a global pandemic and social justice issues are challenging our priorities, our lifestyles, and our world view. We do not take it lightly that we are asking for your support during this stressful and uncertain time, but it is in these very times that we are ever mindful of the need to persevere for the welfare of those whose homes, lives, and resources would be compromised. We will stay the course through this public process and hope that you are able to join us in whatever way is possible for you now. 

With that in mind, please accept our deep gratitude and know that we are pledged to our communities for the long term. Stand Up to Coal is a 501(c)(3) group; however, donations are not tax deductible. New members are welcome!


Suzanne Smith, President

Jonathan Ashbrook, Vice-President

Nancy Goodall, Secretary

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UPDATE: Fighting a Coal Mine During COVID-19

The fight against the proposed Bulldog mine continues during the pandemic. Stand Up To Coal has filed for an administrative review of the IDNR mining permit. The mine’s lawyers have submitted a petition to dismiss Stand Up To Coal and a number of individual petitioners from participating in the Administrative Review. The Petitioner Dismissal Hearing that was originally scheduled for April 2nd was cancelled due to COVID-19 related concerns. It is now tentatively rescheduled for Thursday, May 21st. However, we will not have more details about the format until the week before (May 15th), and everyone’s top priority is finding a way to do this safely while also preserving the integrity of the process. Stay tuned here for updates.

A few other items:

  • Please sign the petition to stop the Bulldog Mine (hosted by Prairie Rivers Network). Illinois does not need another new coal mine!
  • Consider helping to support the costs of our legal and technical experts for the administrative review.
  • In the news: Hallador, the parent company of the mine’s developer, received $10 million from the small business loan stimulus.
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Does Illinois Need a New Coal Mine? Commentary in the News-Gazette

On March 15th, the News-Gazette published a commentary from Sue Smith with Stand Up To Coal. Follow the link above or read the commentary below:

A permit for Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog coal mine in Vermilion County approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Mines and Minerals is now under administrative review.

Sunrise Coal, a subsidiary of Hallador Energy, has filed a motion to dismiss Stand Up To Coal and numerous other petitioners from this review. A hearing on the motion is set for April 2 in Springfield.

The administrative review is the next step in a long process that began around 2009, when representatives from Sunrise Coal quietly went door to door to residents in the area of the proposed mine seeking to buy mineral rights beneath about 23,000 acres of prime farmland in East Central Illinois.

Since then, Stand Up to Coal, a committed group of residents and farmers, and others have continued to challenge the proposed mine. Hundreds turned out at public hearings during the intervening 10 years with many questions surrounding the development and operation of this facility. They continue to be concerned about potential impacts the mine would have on their family, farms and community.

Continue reading

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UPDATE: Petitioner Dismissal Hearing on April 2nd

The mine has filed a motion to dismiss Stand Up To Coal and many of the other petitioners who are challenging the mine permit. The dismissal, if approved, would prevent Stand Up To Coal and other petitioners from participating in the Administrative Review of the IDNR mining permit. The Administrative Review is the last chance to challenge the mining permit, a process in which the permit is evaluated to see if it meets the letter of the law.

The hearing on the dismissal is on April 2nd in Springfield. The hearing is open to the public to listen, so anyone can attend to show support for Stand Up To Coal. Wear a green shirt to show your support for Stand Up To Coal! Come early to attend our press conference. Illinois does not need a new coal mine.

The Administrative Review process requires legal and technical experts. Please consider directly supporting the costs by donating to Stand Up To Coal.

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