2021

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.

Catherine Edmiston Memorial

Catherine Edmiston

Catherine Edmiston
December 6, 1929 ~ August 6, 2017

Catherine Edmiston: Reasons to Believe

By Jeff Biggers

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.”

–Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American poet

“I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

–Wendell Berry, American poet

Catherine “Cathy” Edmiston, friend, writer, farmer, teacher, community advocate,  quilter of communities:

In the heartland, she brought grace to the world, and a clear voice to our dirt roads, fields of corn and dreams, town centers, school rooms and state houses;

The last remaining petitioner fighting for justice regarding the revision of permits for the massive and toxic Deer Run coal slurry impoundment, taking the stand to testify against the phalanx of coal company legal teams and sycophantic state officials in the summer of 2015;

A relentless whistleblower who forewarned the Hillsboro community and central Illinois region about the safety of the Deer Run Mine longwall mine–which has remained idle for two years, as fires raged below and carbon monoxide levels triggered alarms;

A muckraker who exposed the corruption of the regulatory mining processes that legally allowed for violation-ridden mining practices, including violations of the Clean Water War, violations of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, and untold violations of state regulations and laws;

A justice seeker who forewarned against reckless absentee corporate policies that resulted in violations of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, engagement in sexual and gender discrimination, and violations of safety precautions for miners and surrounding communities;

In an interview with the Illinois Times in 2015, Cathy nailed the dilemma of our times, living in a state of constant violations: “Citizens shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer,” Edmiston said, “to make the corporations follow the law.”

Catherine Edmiston gave us a reason to believe in the still small possibility of justice for our communities.

 

Jeff Biggers is a noted and accomplished author of several publications including “Reckoning at Eagle Creek” and most recent, “The Trials of a Scold.”

 

Citizens Working to Improve Coal Communities in Montgomery County

Coal rights location map showing 120,000 acres that were sold by the Montgomery County board to an affiliate of Cline Group.

For the last several years the focus of Citizens Against Longwall Mining has been to minimize the environmental impacts from Deer Run Mine and maximize the community benefits from coal extraction in Montgomery County.

We have identified two primary approaches that would greatly help the economic and developmental growth in Montgomery County.

  1. A coal severance tax should be established in Illinois.
  2. The royalty rate per ton of coal extracted from Deer Run Mine should be increased.

It is hard to understand why Illinois is one of the few coal mining states that do not have a severance tax. West Virginia has a 6.5% and Wyoming a 10.6% coal severance tax. Some Illinois communities have shown their support for a coal severance tax. The Montgomery County Board passed a pro-severance tax resolution during Roy Hertel’s chairmanship. Benld City Council has also approved a resolution to establish a coal severance tax in Illinois. To date, unfortunately, the State of Illinois is more supportive of profits for the coal operator than promoting the needs of coalfield communities.

One proposed plan for a coal severance tax in Illinois was for one-third of collected revenue to go to coal extraction communities, one-third to the state general revenue fund, and one-third to a permanent legacy fund that would cover costs later after the coal companies are gone. There is abundant evidence to support the need for this proposal. There have been two schools destroyed by subsidence in our area, Benld, several years ago, and Swansea, this September, 2017. A legacy fund would have helped communities with expenses like school replacements and repair of damaged infrastructure.

Past experiences show that communities cannot depend on Illinois government agencies and legislators to go against the interests of the coal-utility complex. People power is the most effective way to address the needs of communities. To unite and inspire citizens to act in their own best interests, they must be made aware of the past and consequences that are occurring now and in the future.

Montgomery County and Hillsboro were horribly short-changed when the coal bargaining terms were set up. The coal rights for 120,000 acres were sold by the Montgomery County Board for only $7.2 million to an affiliate of Cline Group in December 2004. This group turned around a short time later and resold the coal rights to another Cline affiliate for $255 million or about 35 times more than initially sold by the Montgomery County Board!

The 2% royalty rate is also too low for any growth potential in Montgomery County. In fact, the 2% is really about 1.5% to the county after Deer Run Mine’s required payments like Black Lung, Abandoned Mines, transportation costs, etc. are subtracted.

In yet another case with questionable results between citizens of a community and the giant coal industry, the citizens of Hillsboro lost their airport and failed to receive fair compensation for this loss. The airport was not appraised as a certified, functioning airport, resulting in an appraisal far below replacement value. The Hillsboro Airport was sold to Hillsboro Energy LLC for $350,000 on January 9, 2008 with the stipulation that the airport would be replaced within 10 years. There still is no Hillsboro airport or plans in the making to construct one.

Citizens are at risk of losing money in more subtle ways. The permanent placement of two high-hazard coal slurry impoundments, the violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, subsided farmland, and compromised roadways caused by Deer Run Mine are bound to adversely affect property values in Montgomery County. The community is not sharing in the wealth from coal extraction, and these companies should pay back to communities they have adversely affected. Our schools and communities are not receiving the funding that they need to provide 21st century opportunities.

Harm is caused to coalfield communities in many ways, and some are unexpected, but extremely dangerous. Deer Run Mine is sealed due to an ongoing fire that has been burning since March 2015. Even though Deer Run Mine is inactive, Hillsboro Energy LLC applied to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of mines and Minerals for a 7,731.8 acre expansion in 2015. IDNR/OMM has not approved or denied the permit application.

The underground fire has not been extinguished after several attempts and should be a major concern to everyone in Montgomery County. There seems to be no accountability for the community’s safety. This ever present danger to the community must be in the forefront of communications with the mine. Citizens need to know where the fire is located since Deer Run Mine is located in the City of Hillsboro. Is the fire migrating and in what direction?

When the Hillsboro Zoning Board of Appeals amended the land use plan to allow underground coal mining, the stated reason for the zoning change was “…to promote economic growth of the community, conserve property values, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the City of Hillsboro, Illinois…” Instead, much the opposite has resulted, our community continues to struggle financially and area citizen’s health and safety are at greater risk. For improvement and growth in Montgomery County, residents must unite and work toward a community benefit plan that holds coal operators responsible to the region in a way that enhances the quality of life for all.

Montgomery County Residents Express Concerns Over Deer Run Mine Expansion

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.

Important Public Hearing on the Deer Run Mine

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.