Although beleaguered by pandemic and political upheaval in our country, just saying “2021” engenders hope and thoughts that we are surviving. The barriers that seem to exist in the resolution of some of our problems revolve around untruths and conspiracies. Using the CALM web site, we plan to do our part through the forthright dissemination of facts and information that can make a positive difference in our coalfield communities in Illinois and across the U. S.

Maxine Pohlman, SSND, who is the Director of LA Vista Ecological Learning Center in Godfrey, Illinois, is working with CALM and the Mining Issues Group of the Sierra Club in a mutual group effort toward addressing harmful coal mining impacts. She has written an article that links the message of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si with the existing damages to coal mining communities. This encyclical title translates to “Praised Be: On the Care of the Common Home” was published on June 18, 2015. His proclamation emphasized that fighting climate change is a moral issue that requires environmental awareness and environmental justice.

Deer Run Coal Mine – Sinking the Heartland and Hearts by Maxine Pohlman, SSND

About an hour’s drive northeast of Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate and La Vista Ecological Learning Center lies the town of Hillsboro and the Deer Run Coal Mine. As part of my ministry at La Vista I joined the Mining Issues Group of the Sierra Club fighting longwall mining, a process used by Deer Run which extracts 90% of the coal, causing land above to subside 5 – 6 feet and changing it irreversibly. Homesteads, highways, schools, and whole communities have been lost or threatened due to “planned subsidence.”

Our work group includes members of CALM, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, and since 2004 they have been committed to opposing coal mining that destroys fertile farmland as well as coal ash and coal slurry disposal methods that threaten the health of their communities, their lands and waters. This is an example of social and environmental justice going hand-in-hand, as we read in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. (48)

In our meetings to determine actions to stop destructive mining, Mary Ellen DeClue, a member of CALM, raised this significant question: “Why are Illinois government agencies and legislators aligning with the interests of coal-fired utilities and coal mining companies to the detriment of the public they serve?” This theme is repeated weekly during our meetings, and in these comments I hear the frustration that comes when the burden of harm and cost is shifted to the local community, all to maximize short term gains by coal companies. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

We are made aware that the coal processing plant is next door to Hillsboro Hospital, that contaminated liquid waste from the mine overflows into Central Park Creek that meanders past Hillsboro High School and Middle School through Hillsboro. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

The agencies that regulate coal mining are allowed to be overly pressured by the industry that they oversee. Coal mining regulations are not enforced, and communities pay with their health and a degraded environment. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

The wisdom of Laudato Si’ is exemplified in examples like this one all over the world every day. When will the human community start taking this wisdom to heart?

For more information visit CALM http://www.citizensagainstlongwallmining.org/ 

Watch the video “Sinking the Heartland” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXp6KRVgH6U

This article was first published in the 2021 Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Newsletter on Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.