High pressure/volume fracking is a growing concern in Illinois. The Public Act 098-0022 (SB-1715) signed into law by Governor Quinn on June 17, 2013 is touted to have safeguards more stringent than other states. If, however, regulations are loosely interpreted, applied and enforced much like the coal mining laws are handled by IDNR/OMM and the IEPA, the health of residents and quality of the environment will suffer. Lax enforcement policies may well negate any purported safeguards, and Illinois coal is one such example. Residents in Illinois coal mining communities have few safeguards with regulatory agencies that allow coal mining to operate without adequate monitoring and testing to establish whether mining is compliant with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. This leaves citizens with no adjudicatory evidence. Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro, Illinois is a mine that has a life time air permit that does not mandate any air monitoring or testing on or off the mine site. IEPA has not enforced the use of stacker tubes as listed in Deer Run Mine’s permit even with residents’ complaining of coal dust in their homes and hospital. Surface waters are threatened by discharges from the mine that empties into Central Park Creek which flows through Hillsboro, Illinois with harmful chemicals that are not monitored. IDNR/OMM facilitates the coal operator to produce cheap coal, but disregards the health risks to citizens, the contamination of air and water, the threat of permanent impoundments, and lower production from subsided farmland. An insightful article by Philip Gregg titled, “How Safe Is Hydraulic Fracturing?” was published in the August 14-20, 2014 issue of Illinois Times. The author discussed why there is controversy and lack of validation over the safety of fracking. Gregg wrote that in most oil and gas producing states, “lobbyists and others have neutralized the regulatory processes.” In Illinois this has already happened with regard to coal. A citizen’s right to petition his/her concerns in an administrative review of a coal mining permit is stifled in an adversarial process that has existed for years. The manner in which IDNR handles mining laws denies citizens their rights to protect their community as established in federal mining laws. The firewall established through administrative law is problematic due to the resulting absolute and unchecked power, especially of an agency captured by the very industry it regulates. The legality of administrative law has been questioned in a recent book by Attorney Philip Hamburger. His book titled “Is Administrative Law Unlawful?” reveals the historical and legal background of administrative law that he considers to be unconstitutional, unlawful, and illegitimate. He thought a more appropriate term for administrative law would be extralegal power. Any citizen in Illinois that has tried to participate in an administrative review of a coal mining permit would concur and recognize the injustice that is absolute and insurmountable. As a concerned citizen, I have listened to different IDNR/OMM representatives defend their coal position with some rather alarming statements such as the following. Water quality, health issues, and air quality are not their purview. Lower property values due to coal contamination in your home are consider a tax benefit!!! High hazard coal slurry impoundments no longer exist after covering with soil, thereby meeting the “removal mandate” of SMCRA, the federal mining law. Underground coal slurry injection is better than an above ground impoundment and will not contaminate groundwater as happened in West Virginia. Such misinformation is double talk for a failure to provide a healthful environment as required by the Illinois Constitution. Neither underground coal slurry injection nor high hazard dam impoundments are environmentally safe, but the profit margin of the coal operator determines how coal slurry is created and handled. The 60-80 foot high rise dam impoundments with toxic viscous slurry remain as a threat forever in a community. The safest approach is to process coal using minimal water and mining chemicals. A dry method or coal press could be used to process the coal that would minimize pollution by producing less or no slurry, but would lower coal profits. Presently, West Virginia has a moratorium on coal slurry injection and a decline in permits approved for impoundments. Illinois should recognize the damage in West Virginia from coal slurry injection and permanent impoundments and protect Illinois communities. Best management practices, as listed in coal mining permits, really means the lowest possible expense for the coal operator. Will best mangement practices for fracking also be motivated by profits? This attitude translates to producing excessive and unnecessary permanent damage to communities. There are no severance or extractive fees for coal; yet, Illinois taxpayers are taxed to support future clean up for this “legalized pollution” and for subsidies to coal. The proposed fracking regulations in Illinois does have an extractive tax, but will it be sufficient to compensate for permanent damage to water and land? If Illinois fracking operations receive the same preferential treatment by the regulatory agencies as bestowed on coal, communities will continue to endure unnecessary taxes to cover the hidden costs of coal and now together with fracking will experience diminished health and quality of life. Citizens must stand up for their quality of life and sustainability of their communities. The coal and fracking industries with the assistance of IDNR and IEPA will continue to damage our health and environment if we let them. Remember, it is up to us to safeguard our environment. May your concerns be heard and echo through city, county, and state offices.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA)
Notice of Water Discharge Permit (NPDES) & 401 Water Quality Certification
Hillsboro Energy, LLC
Deer Run Mine Refuse Disposal Area No. 2
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Hillsboro High School
522 East Tremont Street, Hillsboro, Illinois
NPDES Permit Hearing at 5 p.m.
401 Water Quality Certification Hearing at 7:30 p.m.
Please refer to these documents for additional information including how, where and when to file written comments.
Click here for the NPDES information.
Click here for the 401 Certification information.
Permit 399 does not protect citizens and the environment from the impact of coal mining as state and federal mining laws intended. Specifically, Permit 399 does not provide adequate monitoring to show or establish that there is compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine should not be renewed for another 5 years. In fact, Permit 399 should never have been approved.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals (IDNR/OMM) not only approved an incomplete permit, but also turned over the water and air quality to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). When citizens expressed concerns about the impact of coal on their air, water, and community, IDNR/OMM responded that these issues were not in their purview. IDNR/OMM should be responsible for impacts from the mine as outlined in state and federal mining laws and that is not happening.
By turning over environmental responsibility of Deer Run Mine to IEPA, IDNR/OMM has essentially set up conditions that complicate and often hinder enforcement of mining laws. IDNR/OMM has granted Deer Run certain exemptions, which make the community even more vulnerable. Runoff from railroad loading zones and mine roadways are allowed to drain into the area surrounding the mine without any treatment. The most harmful components of coal are not monitored or analyzed so contamination of surface water like Central Park Creek is a threat. There is no monitoring of fugitive emissions that are unique to coal mining. There are no limitations in noise or time delays in road use due to rail transport. In short, Permit 399 does not reasonably protect citizens from the harmful effects of coal processing and transport in the community.
Deer Run Mine was granted a lifetime air permit with particulate matter limitations but it is not doing any monitoring. With the coal processing plant so close to the hospital and nursing home, the coal dust is potentially very harmful to residents. Many months ago, a petition signed by 364 citizens to have air monitors placed at the hospital and nursing home was presented to Mayor Downs. Hopefully, the citizens’ petition will be honored and air monitors will be established, possibly with Deer Run’s assistance; but, to date this has not happened.
When Roger Dennison (President of Hillsboro Energy, LLC) presented the positive aspects that coal mining will bring to Montgomery County at the Permit 399 hearing, he asked that we give the mine a chance to be a good neighbor. Well, the citizens of Montgomery County have given Deer Run Mine an excellent chance and they are still waiting for the good neighbor response from Deer Run.
In Tuesday’s (Feb. 18, 2014) Journal-News article on page 7B titled, “EPA Files Rules About Coke and Coal Piles,” the importance of dust suppression and enclosure of coal piles was given major emphasis. The damage to health resulting from fugitive coal dust should be a concern to all of us. For the record, a copy of the above news article was submitted into the record at the hearing.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Hillsboro is the permanent existence of high-rise impoundments that can leak and fail over time. The non-impounding coal refuse area as presented in permit 399 was altered through revisions that did not allow for public involvement. The incised waste area was converted to a high-hazard 80-foot dam impoundment made of coarse coal waste. In doing this, IDNR/OMM was representing Hillsboro Energy LLC (HEL), not the interests of citizens in Montgomery County.
From a background perspective, it is important to point out that the location of the slurry waste area in Permit 399 was suggested by the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conversation District to be moved out of the Hillsboro Lake’s watershed. This agency also pointed out that the permit application failed to include all the intermittent streams within the permit and shadow areas and are therefore vulnerable to contamination and mine runoff. Montgomery County SWCD also questioned how the drainage and restoration of the longwall subsidence could be accomplished within one year as proposed. The very pertinent Montgomery County SWCD letter dated March 24, 2008 to Mr. Scott Fowler was not discovered until November 6, 2012 through a FOIA request to the Montgomery County SWCD. This letter was not available for reviewing or found in the Permit 399 file. A copy of this letter was submitted for the record.
There are techniques that could be used to process coal that would not result in high hazard impoundments, but IDNR/OMM approves what the coal operator wants, not what is best for the community. HEL has applied for a 2nd impoundment that is twice the size as the first and closer to residents in Hillsboro and Schram City. Failure of this impoundment would inundate portions of Hillsboro and Schram City with tragic consequences.
IDNR/OMM intends to approve this high risk coal slurry impoundment even with the location creating a serious potential threat to residents.
Illinois is now experiencing what is called the West Virginia Syndrome–the production of coal with the coal operator shielded from its responsibility to the community. In Illinois, the government officials and regulatory agencies, similar to West Virginia, are beholden to coal. They can see the damage that coal has done to West Virginia citizens, but our officials seem immune to the reality. Chris Cline, owner of Deer Run, has established himself in West Virginia and identifies with Don Blankenship of Massey Energy as a talented coal leader. So far, the policies in Illinois have followed the same favoritism to coal as in West Virginia.
Before we have any more irreversible damage, IDNR/OMM must start enforcing mining laws with the protection of citizens in mind to prevent a repeat of the environmental disasters in Illinois that have already occurred in West Virginia.