Revised Land Permit Accepted by IDNR

The revisions to the land permit for the proposed Bulldog Coal mine have been accepted by IDNR. Sunrise Coal now has up to 1 year to submit fee payment and proof of bonds. Once Sunrise Coal submits those documents, the public will have 30 days to begin an administrative review, which is the final step in evaluating if the permit meets the letter of the law.

Here is the letter to the editor that was published in the Sidell Reporter regarding the status of Bulldog’s permit application and the next steps in the public process:

Thursday, Oct 19th

The proposed Bulldog Coal mine in southwestern Vermilion County, Illinois is threatening to become a reality again, and the public is getting left behind in the process.

According to Scott Fowler, IDNR Office of Mines and Minerals Land Reclamation Division manager, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has received and accepted all necessary revised documents to accept Sunrise Coal’s revised permit and is waiting for the coal company to submit its final revised application.

Beginning around 2009, Sunrise Coal began soliciting landowners for mineral rights to mine coal in southwestern Vermilion County, near Homer, Illinois.  As people began to learn more about underground coal mining, concerned citizens began questioning how an underground room and pillar mine could affect the surrounding communities.

Sunrise Coal filed a permit application on July 30, 2014.  By filing the permit application, Sunrise Coal believed its application was “complete and accurate,” and that the mine as proposed would comply with all requirements of federal and Illinois laws.  Over 100 landowners, rural homeowners, and others spoke out at public hearings in 2014, questioning how the proposed coal mine could affect their drinking water, how it could impact the air they breathe, how it might affect the productivity of their farmland, and wondering what kind of regulations and oversight would ensure public safety.

The public hearings resulted in IDNR issuing Sunrise Coal a modification letter in March 2015 which compiled a list of 62 sloppy shortcomings and mistakes that grossly failed to comply with the law.  Clearly the permit application as filed by Sunrise Coal was not “complete and accurate.” This was a significantly large number of deficiencies requiring modifications for a permit application.  Sunrise Coal was given a year to make modifications to its permit application.  Sunrise Coal could not get its act together within the year filing deadline.  Sunrise acknowledged the gaping holes in its permit application by needing an extension of an additional year, but still that was not enough time. In March 2017 IDNR granted Sunrise Coal six more months to comply, for a total of thirty months (2 ½ years) to complete all 62 modifications.   Considering the length of time it took to adequately correct so many modifications, it is assumed the revised permit will contain many changes in both content and design.  Unfortunately IDNR is not required to provide further public hearings for revised permits.

The next stage in the public process is an administrative review, a process involving individual petitioners with standing (people who may be adversely affected by the proposed mine) bringing their case before an IDNR hearing officer in Springfield, Illinois.  Lawyers for both the coal company and petitioners, along with expert witnesses to support petitioner concerns, will be involved.   Once Sunrise Coal files their revised application the public will, by law, have 30 days to read through approximately 1000 pages of the application, coordinate their statements, line up supporting expert witnesses, and secure a lawyer to ensure the paperwork is filed correctly.  In addition, if the permit passes the administrative review, the company will need a water permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).  While Sunrise Coal was granted 30 months to rewrite their application, the public will be given one month to respond.  When the water we drink and use, the air we breathe, and our communities are at stake, one month just isn’t enough time.

Many concerns about potential problems and logistics fall into grey areas between IEPA, IDNR, and the Illinois state permitting process.  Dust is a big concern, but IEPA does not mandate air quality monitoring, so coal dust from on-site or transport would go unregulated.  Even basic procedural questions remain unanswered, such as:  How will the mine supply water for washing the coal and miners?  How would coal be transported off-site?  By truck, train, or possibly by conveyor to the railroad hub one mile east of Homer?  And down the road, what will become of the enormous slurry impoundments after the mine closes?

Landowners and public citizens with concerns about the proposed Bulldog coal mine can reach out to Stand Up To Coal, a local grassroots organization of farmers, landowners, and concerned citizens, or Prairie Rivers Network, for more information on becoming involved.

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