Once again the question needs to be asked, ”Is the Illinois Government making the right decision?” Last year Illinois was the only state in the nation to have increased its coal production. The Illinois Government has promoted Illinois coal and has worked toward establishing coal as the 21st century energy source. Considering the dire outcomes from climate change and the ongoing accumulation of toxins from use of coal, the Illinois Government should reconsider the wisdom of establishing coal mining that will involve as much as two-thirds of land resources in Illinois.
The influence of the coal industry in Illinois is not demonstrated by the amount of electricity produced by coal-fired utilities, but rather the control over the state regulatory agencies and legislative bodies. In Illinois, the term, “King Coal” is truly descriptive of the coal industry’s pervasive influence on legislative statutes, appropriations, mining permits, and environmental protections. The government in Illinois has determined that coal is the energy solution for the state, and the citizens through their taxes are subsidizing the very industry that pollutes their backyard.
Is the state’s rationale for coal based on the hope of improving Illinois economy through coal development? It is difficult to understand how Illinois is financially benefiting from coal. Sales tax is paid only if the coal is sold in state. Most of the coal goes out of state or is exported. Unlike other coal states, there is no severance tax for extracted coal. Illinois exempts mining machinery from sales tax and new mines are often in enterprise zones for additional tax breaks. Does the State of Illinois and its citizens really profit from coal?
The coal industry has received millions of taxpayer dollars from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to enhance its profits and to establish it as the energy source for Illinois as “clean” coal. DCEO through its Office of Coal Development already funds 6 programs to establish coal resources as a fuel for the future. Yet, DCEO is also the agency listed in the Comprehensive Solar Energy Act of 1977 that is the primary authority for supervising and implementing the solar
energy program in Illinois. What has been done by the Illinois DCEO to establish solar energy as a viable energy source as legislated in the 1977 act? As the rest of the U.S. moves to alternative energy sources, are the energy decisions by the Illinois government preparing its citizens for future economic growth?
In addition to the millions of dollars in subsidies for the coal industry administered by DCEO, the taxpayer also covers the administrative costs of coal mining permits since the fees paid by coal applicants are insufficient. Insignificant revisions (no public participation) and significant revisions are approved at no extra charge to the coal operator. Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro, Illinois has 16 revisions (last count) and one significant revision after Permit #399 was approved in 2009 for the same administrative fee. This process encourages mine operators to submit inadequate and misleading permit applications since Illinois Department of Natural Resources/Office of Mines and Minerals is very obliging with no cost revisions.
At one time, the public trusted that Illinois regulatory agencies enforced mining laws, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. These laws should protect citizens and the environment while mining operations are conducted. The reality is that our communities are subjected to harmful air, contaminated water resources, subsided land, damaged roads, and permanent coal slurry structure impoundments. There is no monitoring or protection from the most harmful components from coal mining in the community. Illinois citizens are entitled to a government that minimizes community contamination from coal and sustains water and farmland for future generations. Instead, the Illinois coal industry is entitled to preferential treatment that increases contamination in communities and damages water and farmland resources.