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.

In April 2019, after Sunrise Coal spent 30 months of addressing 62 points of necessary modifications, IDNR approved the permit for the mine. Stand Up To Coal and other petitioners responded by filing requests for administrative review. This review, in which the permit is evaluated to see if it meets the letter of the law, represents the last chance to challenge the permit.

In addition to the IDNR permit, Sunrise Coal will also be required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water-quality permit, issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, to regulate water leaving the 400-acre mine.

In January, Sunrise Coal filed a motion to dismiss Stand Up To Coal and other petitioners from the review. If that dismissal is granted April 2, those groups would be prevented from participating in the review and their voices would not be heard.

These petitioners have major concerns that should not be tossed aside, including:

— Subsidence of farmland as a result of roof collapse in voids left underground by mining could cause costly damage to buried drainage tiles that make farming possible in this table-flat area.

— High volumes of water required to wash coal each day could draw down valuable ground water aquifers.

— Contamination from toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, mercury and selenium, from above-ground permanent slurry impoundments holding waste from the washed coal could leach into the surrounding area.

— Impairment of the Salt Fork River and its tributary from contaminated discharge and surface runoff from the mine could affect wildlife and recreational value.

— Air pollution from coal dust generated through mining and transportation by trucks or trains could affect public health and damage property.

— Local roads could be degraded by the expected additional weight and volume of heavy trucks.

We still question whether a one-time extraction of coal is worth the risk to surrounding communities, residents and generations of farmers who live and work on the land.

Currently, Illinois is exploring a goal of getting 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, coal-ash regulation bills are being written, and coal mines and coal-fired power plants are closing nationwide. In addition, recent reporting indicates Sunrise Coal’s Carlisle Mine in Indiana, which was the poster child for the Bulldog project, is now scheduled to close permanently.

Which will it be, Illinois? This coal permit remains on the table, while at the same time, energy goals and policies are redirecting efforts toward renewables and cleaning up the mess left behind from burning coal.

Illinois does not need another coal mine.

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