The past 6 years have been good for Deer Run Mine. Not so much for citizens in the community. As such, the West Virginia Syndrome of coal production at any cost is well established in Montgomery County. Coal has been mined, processed, and transported out of Deer Run Mine for profit. At the same time, Montgomery County pays the price. Dust has continued to migrate off the mine site along with polluted water discharges to Central Park Creek. Subsidence has affected roads and farm fields. The first 140-acre impoundment is essentially full of coal slurry now and has visible leakage from the sides of the coarse coal walls. This 80 foot tall high-hazard dam threat will be in the community forever and will be joined very soon by an even larger blight with the help of the Department of Natural Resources.
A second high hazard dam impoundment that covers 318 acres and will be 60 feet high will be even closer to citizens and the hospital. The construction of this high hazard dam was proposed and approved with Permit 424. The NPDES permit for the second impoundment just recently was approved by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. What does this mean for residents? First, residents should realize that legislators and government agencies have been captivated with coal production. The defense of coal and its historical and future value are alive and repeated over and over. “Clean coal” summarizes the untrue myth that wants to establish all the damage from mining, combustion, coal ash and carbon dioxide production does not exist or can be corrected.
The major problem recognized from coal is its carbon dioxide production when burned and therefore a contributor to climate change. That does not begin to represent the reality of coal. Even climate change, unfortunately, is disputed by corporate interests and their lobby influenced legislators who financially gain from coal promotion. The production of carbon dioxide is just one of the many problems with coal use.
The total reality of coal must be recognized and dealt with. The toxicity of coal dust has been denied, covered up, and ignored. The reality is that Montgomery County residents breathe the air that contains particles from coal on a daily basis. Children and elderly are especially vulnerable. Tragically, inadequate procedures in permits approved by IDNR and IEPA do not prevent fugitive emissions from migrating beyond the mine perimeter, and there is no monitoring on and off the mine site to establish compliance.
The Montgomery County Board and many residents in the county have reported to the IEPA and US EPA problems with coal dust in their homes and have requested air monitors to be placed in the community at the hospital and nursing home. Mr. Brad Frost in a letter of October 10, 2014 from the IEPA responded with the comment, “In regard to monitors, they will not prevent fugitive emissions from the pile, nor will they quantify emissions for compliance or enforcement purposes.” That statement was very disconcerting. Indeed, what should be done to force compliance and enforcement if no monitoring is occuring?
Illinois officials when confronted with this health issue as well as other coal impacts consider the problem as “political.” This term describes the inability for communities to have serious concerns addressed by the very officials who are responsible for enforcing statutory provisions. The reality is that coal mining laws in Illinois conform to the needs of coal operators, not to the needs of the community. This prerogative of laws by corporate manipulation of government has been dubbed by Iowa voters as “Governing Under the Influence.” The grassroots group called American Friends Service Committee has a goal of returning the power of government back to the people. Kevin Rutledge, the AFSC Education Coordinator, stated, “Our government is under the influence from corporate power and money and not under the influence from the people.” (http://www.publicnewservice.org/2015-02-06/budget-policy-and-…)
In Illinois and other coal producing states, the practice of coal operators is to inundate the government officials with campaign cash and enormous lobbying clout. The power of the vote is no match to the power of money; the power of people has yet to be realized.