A court case review, regarding citizens’ environmental concerns, will be held at
Hillsboro Courthouse at 1 p.m. on Monday, December 5. It involves the removal
of the above ground mining waste impoundment on the south edge of Hillsboro.
A Federal law states “impounding structures may not be retained permanently
as a part of the post mining land use.”
Farmers who want to protect homes, land and fresh water supplies, as well as
Hillsboro citizens in south and east Hillsboro who are interested in the long-term
instability of the waste impoundment, are invited to attend the appeal. Over
time, impoundments can leak contaminated slurry into groundwater, or fail
completely, and flood the area. In Hillsboro, this vulnerable area includes a
hospital, a nursing home and a prison. Prior to building Deer Run mine, an
Administrative Review could have pointed out these risks. However, citizens
were never allowed to have their expert witnesses testify at an Administrative
Review that was allowed by law.
For more information, please attend the court review at the Hillsboro Illinois
Courthouse on Monday, December 5 at 1 p.m.
Each year the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), Alton Field Division, enters into a Performance Agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals Land Reclamation Division (IDNR OMM LRD). The following citizen comments regarding the 2017 Performance Agreement were submitted to OSMRE.
The off-site impacts from the Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro, Illinois are not effectively addressed to protect the environment and the public. Permit 399, NPDES Permit IL 0078727, Air Quality Permit 135030 AAZ, MSHA I.D.1103182, Significant Revision 1 of Permit 399, Permit 424, and NPDES Permit IL 0080039 define the mining operation but fail to protect the surrounding communities from toxic dust, contamination of surface waters, damaged roads, sunken farmland, and threatening coal slurry impoundments. These permits do not provide compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act as issued by IDNR and IEPA.
The Deer Run Mine is currently inactive due to a combustion event that has produced toxic levels of carbon monoxide. It has been sealed off recently to diminish the oxygen source to the smoldering combustion area. There are no requirements that mandate Hillsboro Energy, LLC (HEL) must extinguish the fire event. The major incentive for HEL to put out the fire is to be able to enter the mine and move the costly longwall machine to a safe area. The community’s safety is dependent on the business plans of HEL. As a result, the safety and quality of life in Montgomery County are held in jeopardy without adequate regulatory oversight at a time when the coal market is tanking.
Expansion Planned Despite Fire in the Mine
HEL has applied for a 7732-acre expansion in the shadow area of Deer Run Mine. At the Informal Conference and Public Hearing for Significant Revision 2 of Permit 399, many citizens expressed their concerns about harmful off-site impacts from the mine that has been functional since 2009. Adverse impacts to the community from Deer Run Mine have been reported but not acknowledged beyond the premise that all regulations and authoritative obligations are being met.
Questions about the ongoing Deer Run Mine fire event at the public meetings were stifled by IDNR OMM LRD with the statement that IDNR was not involved and only MSHA handled this issue. Illinois state safety inspectors work at IDNR and their input should have been included in these public meetings. The unstoppable mine fire for decades in Centralia, Pennsylvania establishes a major fear that the Deer Run Mine fire might also be mishandled and remain indefinitely a destructive force in the community. One cannot think of a more damaging threat to a community than an underground fire that is trivialized and ignored by the very agency that permitted and inspects the mine.
Mine Subsidence Drainage Issues
There were discrepancies discussed at the meetings about apparent differences between the subsidence reports and the observations of residents. Concerns related to the effectiveness of the reclamation of subsided panels and drainage problems were expressed. The extensive erosion of soil and the confusing “plan” providing at best an incomplete patchwork approach for fixing drainage were dismissed by IDNR as a working project that takes time. There are now 2 longwall panels that have been subsided since 2012 and 2013.
There was no plan in Permit 399 on how 4-6 feet of sunken land would be reclaimed. The only reclamation approach to fix subsided land in Permit 399 was to be derived from a model developed from data collected from the first two subsided panels. The model was to be established based on the actual subsidence that occurred with longwall mining, but the model did not address the drainage problems resulting from sunken areas in flat terrain. The model obviously did not provide the needed corrective solution to the drainage problems created. The southerly direction of longwall mining creates a hill and dale for each panel with the southerly flow of the puddled water meeting a hill to overcome for passage to an unknown area.
With the thought that drainage issues will not be addressed when they should and could be taken care of, IDNR gets an “F” for contemporaneous reclamation. IDNR assures residents that reclamation is in progress and all is well. The true reality for residents is that there is no regulatory time requirement for reclamation and obviously the use of subsided water-logged land will be delayed and its productivity compromised for farming. Longwall mining should not be permitted on farmland where reclamation cannot be accomplished in a timely manner or never at all.
If the past can teach us about the future, Significant Revision 2 of Permit 399 will most likely be approved and thousands of acres of farmland with water resources will be permanently damaged. A scan of the post-subsidence map submitted in the application of the Significant Revision 2 of Permit 399 indicates the many areas of disturbance for water retention and areas of disturbance for streams for the longwall panels 4 through 17. The reclamation of subsided land and drainage areas is basically a limited and highly conditional “guarantee” given by the same agency that follows a lax pro-mining policy when approving the permit. Questionable assurances that Hillsboro Energy, LLC has got to reclaim the subsided land to the extent that it is economically and technologically feasible is not a sustainable plan for landowners. Furthermore, no bonding is required, but material damage will certainly occur. The landowner must negotiate with HEL for compensation and remediation of land. This unfair arrangement will certainly harm the agri-business in Montgomery County as well as the rest of Illinois with future longwall mining planned.
Needless to say, the impact from sunken soggy farmland is very detrimental to the livelihood of this farming community. The proposed expansion is a huge threat for continued interruption of farming and agricultural activities. Again, any resolution of damaged or contaminated water resources is dependent on HEL’s commitment to being the “good neighbor” it promised before Permit 399 was approved. HEL is not responsible for water damage or loss if the water source is used for irrigation or livestock. This is another economic hit to the landowner’s livelihood.
It was asked at the Public Hearing if mine runoff entering a stream would adversely affect cattle drinking water from that stream. The resident was told that at the most maybe the cattle would be exposed to high levels of sulfate that may cause diarrhea. The answer was misleading because the chemicals in runoff are not analyzed. The NPDES permit does not include runoff monitoring and HEL is not required to contain runoff from the mine. IDNR’s response was inaccurate because IDNR along with HEL and Montgomery County citizens do not know what chemicals, and in what concentration and quantities, are coming from the mine.
Time to Adopt the EPA Stream Protection Rule
As directed by the NPDES permit, only sulfate, chloride, pH, and suspended solids are monitored in discharges from the mine. There are many toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, selenium, lead, chromium, etc and carcinogenic compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other harmful volatile organic compounds that are known to be present in coal. These harmful chemicals are not monitored so there is no documentation of what ends up in surface waters or on the land. Deer Run Mine discharges pass through Structure 5 and continues through Hillsboro via Central Park Creek and empties into a biologically significant stream.
Unfortunately, the off-site impacts from Deer Run Mine are not only predictable but unavoidable according to IDNR Director Rosenthal. The permits for Deer Run Mine as approved and administered in Illinois are in compliance with regulations. Alton Field Division of OSMRE has also confirmed in the past that IDNR is in compliance with the state and federal mining regulations in its approval and enforcement of coal mining permits. The problem seems to be that the present regulations are not sufficient to prevent the inevitable damage to communities.
Director Joseph Pizarchik of OSMRE has recognized this reality and has proposed changes in mining regulations referred to as the Stream Protection Rule. Over decades, SMCRA has been manipulated and convoluted to maximize mining profits while ignoring the consequences to citizens and communities. The coal industry has established conditions that maximize its profits and minimizes its responsibilities. The present system is dysfunctional for citizens and the change in regulations is welcomed by affected citizens, environmental groups, and coalfield communities.
The coal industry as expected is fighting against the Stream Protection Rule with the rationale that there is no problem and no reason to change mining regulations. The unexpected opponent of the Stream Protection Rule is the Supervisor of the Land Reclamation Division in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Mr. Scott Fowler.
His position is a betrayal of coalfield communities and of his position as a mining regulator in Illinois. With the lack of concern and respect for coalfield communities by IDNR, it is essential that OSMRE continue its efforts to get the Stream Protection Rule made into law. Citizens need an agency that can do right by communities, prevent future destruction, and mitigate off-site impacts.
OSMRE’s efforts to rectify the injustice that coalfield communities are subjected to are encouraging and desperately needed. Thank you for recognizing that the present system must not only be changed, but future operations must be compatible with growth and development of communities.
William Schroeder, a landowner concerned by the proposed expansion area, addresses Scott Fowler (rt) and Cliff Johnson, Land Reclamation Specialist, about the lack of a formulated plan to handle the drainage issues of subsided land with no timeframe for reclamation. William questioned how the subsidence of each sunken panel going north to south could be corrected when each time there is a hill to overcome. Mr. Fowler agreed that the situation is more difficult.
Nearly fifty concerned citizens, local officials and area farmers attended the February 11th “Informal Conference” held by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals in Hillsboro at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse.
Hillsboro Energy, LLC has submitted an application for a Significant Revision No. 2 to Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine.
Scott Fowler, Division Manager and Hearing Officer for the Informal Conference, listens to Larry Schraut at the podium. Larry farms land that is located in the shadow area in both the original and proposed expansion of Deer Run Mine. He questioned why IDNR/OMM would approve an expansion when they don’t know if the subsided land with drainage problems can be reclaimed as documented by the little progress that has been made on correcting the sunken areas of panels 1 and 2 after several years. Mr. Fowler commented that as long as the mine is fulfilling the obligations of its current permit, it has an opportunity to be able to expand its mining area.
An “Informal Conference” is supposed to be an opportunity for questions and answers regarding a new coal mine permit application, revision, or renewal. Per the federal Surface Mining Control, Reclamation and Enforcement Act an Informal Conference can serve to answer questions regarding a new mine permit so there is no need for a Public Hearing on the application.
Scott Fowler, Division Manager, Office of Mines and Minerals, IDNR and Hearing Officer for the Informal Conference.
Needless to say, citizens have also requested a Public Hearing as many of their questions were not answered. The Public Hearing has been scheduled by Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Mines and Minerals on March 24th at 5 p.m. at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse.
Below are some key issues and concerns raised at the Informal Conference:
1. In spite of being shut down due to an ongoing underground mine fire, the mine has applied for a 7,731.8 acre expansion for underground mining in the shadow area. This huge increase in available coal mining area is nearly double the size of the originally permitted underground mining area. Thousands of acres of prime flat farmland are included in this longwall mining application and hence will be subject to subsidence if this new permit is approved.
2. If Deer Run Mine is expanded, there was a request not to use the 2 existing impoundments for storage of coal waste. The two slurry impoundments upon failure would damage Hillsboro Lake and many homes and businesses as shown by the inundation maps.
3. Many citizens were concerned about water resources being contaminated and compromised to the extent that the stream could not be used for cattle or wildlife. After coal has been mined for 5 years at Deer Run Mine, surface waters around Deer Run Mine are contaminated as indicated by their high conductivity.
4. The mine also proposes to subside (drop the surface of the land unevenly four to six feet with permanent earthquake-like impacts) on the western edges of Coffeen Lake, which is an IDNR Fish and Wildlife area. Bear Creek and McDavid Branch will also be subsided. Although there will be material damage to water resources and farmland from subsidence, there is no additional bonding planned for the proposed expansion at Deer Run Mine.
5. Local farmers expressed again their concerns about long-term drainage problems and they questioned how subsided farmland would be reclaimed. It became apparent that there is no formulated plan on how the water drainage on subsided land would be handled and certainly no timeframe for completion.
6. Area citizens have worries that the mine processing plant producing air pollution and causing health risks would only be prolonged with an expansion. There is no change with the expansion in the lifetime air permit which does not monitor air on or off the mine site. Residents have endured coal dust, fumes, and noxious odors and these unhealthy events would be increased with the additional 7,731.8 acres.
7. With an approved expansion, the mine will be able to extract coal for several decades as long as Hillsboro Energy, LLC renews the permit every 5 years. The fiscal solvency of Deer Run Mine was questioned. There were worries about who would pay future costs of reclamation after the mine closes.
8. The potential of longwall mining under the land will lower area property values and quality of life. Many of the mineral rights of landowners were severed years, decades, or even a century ago from their surface land. The rights of landowners are superseded by the rights of Deer Run Mine.
Excerpts of citizen testimony and state agency responses are at the video link below, thanks to the work of Pam and Lan Richart of Eco-Justice, Champaign, Illinois.
Larry Schraut testimony.
William Schroeder testimony.
Time: Thursday, February 11th at 5:00 p.m.
Place: Montgomery County Historic Court House, County Board Room, 2nd Floor
PROPOSED 7,731.8 ACRE EXPANSION OF THE MINE RAISES CONCERNS AS MINE FIRE CONTINUES TO BURN UNDERGROUND
Attend this Illinois Department of Natural Resources Public Informal Conference regarding the proposed mine expansion of Deer Run Mine. Comments and questions can be made at the meeting.
Questions that demand answers:
1. Even though the mining will be about 500 feet underground, the new, proposed 7,731.8 acre longwall mine expansion to the south will pull the coal out from a huge area, sinking much of the surface land up to six or more feet. The farmland will sink unevenly over a very large area. Who pays if farmers lose land productivity and if their farming costs go up because of this?
2. How can this new underground longwall mining area proceed when drainage problems in the existing longwall mined area are not resolved?
3. The proposed expansion shows the mine will sink or subside parts of the western edge of Coffeen Lake: what will sinking part of the lake mean to the IDNR Fish and Wildlife Area and the quality and quantity of lake water?
4. The proposed expansion map shows the lower reaches of McDavid Branch Creek will be sunk or subsided and it feeds into Coffeen Lake. What happens if the amount of water going into the Lake is reduced by ponding up stream?
5. What will IDNR do to ensure the mine fire area is sealed and the fire is stopped? How can state authorities allow Deer Run Mine to expand if the mine has not managed to put out its underground fire that has been burning since March, 2015?
This proposed 7,731.8 acre expansion is Deer Run Mine Permit 399 Significant Revision No.2. A copy of the expansion application is located at the Montgomery County Clerk’s Office or can be viewed on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources web site, Mines and Minerals Land Reclamation.
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
Administrative Record, Room 252 SIB
1951 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20240
RE: Docket ID: OSM-2010-0018, Proposed Stream Protection Rule,
80 Fed. Reg. 44436 (July 27, 2015)
The proposed stream protection rules should be implemented, and in addition, appropriate requirements that would mandate full compliance with the Clean Water Act should be enacted. Moreover, material damage produced from mining should include not only water resource damage, but total economic loss to coalfield citizens.
There are 2 active coal mines near the homes of Citizens Against Longwall Mining members. Shay 1 Mine in Carlinville, Illinois and Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro, Illinois. Both mines have contaminated water resources, damaged farmland and diminished air quality.
Shay 1 Mine, the prior Monterey 1 Mine owned by Exxon-Mobil, was purchased by Chris Cline/Foresight Energy Group and approved in 2009 for active coal production. Monterey 1 Mine had contaminated groundwater and off-site surface waters for many years due to leakage from 2 coal slurry impoundments. It is unacceptable that the water violations did not prevent the Illinois Department of Natural Resources/Office of Mines and Minerals from approving the permit that allowed additional coal slurry to be placed into the offending impoundments.
IDNR/OMM proceeded over time to approve importation of coal ash and to establish underground coal slurry injection at Shay 1 Mine. The unacceptable contamination issues still exist and this has resulted in the Attorney General’s Office decreeing a trench assembly to be constructed to facilitate the pumping of contaminated water for treatment prior to discharge. This has not been established yet, but is planned.
There is a pending permit (Revision 11 of Permit 56) that would expand Shay 1 Mine by 10,015 acres. Many residents in Macoupin County are very concerned about the proposed plan to room and pillar mine under the 2 Gillespie Lakes that are the only drinking water resources for thousands of residents. IDNR/OMM routinely rubber stamps coal mine permit applications regardless of citizens’ objections and risks. Citizens are legitimately concerned that 40-50 years later there will be subsidence with no bonding available to compensate for damage. They have already lost an almost newly built school due to subsidence from prior coal mining. The coal operator that produced the subsided mine voids was no longer in business. The legacy costs of coal are not addressed for communities that have unplanned subsidence and ground water damage that will occur for future generations.
Deer Run Mine is also owned by Chris Cline/Foresight Energy with recent financial holdings by Robert Murray Energy. This longwall mine is located in the City of Hillsboro, Illinois with the coal processing plant next door to Hillsboro Hospital, a nursing home, and a day care center. The mine discharges into Structure 5 that flows into Central Park Creek and meanders through Hillsboro past the Middle and High Schools. The chemical content, concentrations, and total accumulation from the mine discharge are not known, but the electrical conductivity of water in Central Park Creek is high and at unacceptable levels. Water quality standards are seriously not being protected with the present regulations as applied in Illinois.
The damage to farmland by subsidence from longwall mining has not only been a nonissue, but the proposed methods to mitigate the 5-6 feet sunken areas are absent from approved Permits 399, Significant Revision 1 of 399, and Renewal of 399, and Permit 422 . There are still no proposed drainage plans after 7 years beyond the promise that these problems will be managed. IDNR/OMM ignored the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation’s concerns about drainage issues from subsidence and its suggestion that the first impoundment be relocated out of the watershed of Hillsboro Lake, a public drinking water source. Long term, longwall mining will severely affect the agricultural industry in Illinois since coal is located in two/thirds of the state.
One of the most dangerous legacies in Montgomery County is the permanent placement of the coal slurry impoundments in the community. Hundreds of acres of cropland are lost to coal slurry impoundments that can leak, erode coal dust, and fail over time. There was no risk assessment in determining the location of Deer Run Mine’s second impoundment that upon failure will inundate the City of Hillsboro to the west, Schram City to the north, several major streams and hundreds of acres of farmland to the south, and the first coal slurry impoundment to the east. This inundation threat and forever risk to several communities reflect the tragic, inappropriate, and harmful control coal has on our regulatory agencies.
Through manipulation by the coal industry and a lack of enforcement by regulatory agencies, there is a failure of proper protection of coalfield communities. The fact that under SMCRA the Clean Air Act is not enforced and fugitive emissions are a nonissue is an insult to the health and development of a community. The health damage from particulate matter alone is well established, but coal dust has harmful metals and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that endanger health even more. Coalfield citizens tragically do not have their right to a healthful life as should be ensured and protected by regulatory agencies.
If coal mining is to mitigate its damage in the U.S., the health, safety, and financial well being of communities must be protected by federal mining laws and enforced by state regulators. Stronger enforcement of SMCRA is essential for the quality of life in communities and the continued extraction of coal.
Thank you for your many efforts and for proposing the new stream protection rules.