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 3% royalty rate is also too low for any growth potential in Montgomery County. In fact, the 3% 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.

 

5 Year Renewal of Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine Does Not Protect Citizens

coaldustPermit 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.

Deer-Run-Mine-AerialPerhaps 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.

Will Hillsboro Ever Get Air Monitors at Its Hospital and Nursing Home?

Over 350 concerned residents signed a petition at the Old Settler’s Celebration to request that Mayor John Downs have air monitors placed at the hospital and nursing home which are in close proximity to the coal processing plant at Deer Run Mine.

By monitoring the air for particulate matter, the quality of the ambient air can be determined with respect to two criteria pollutants, PM10 and PM2.5.  Both of these along with other pollutants are monitored across the U S with Illinois having several sites, but none located in Hillsboro.

The World Health Organization has published a report on the health damage resulting from particulate matter. The smaller particle of 2.5 micrometers size is more harmful than the 10 micrometer, but all dust particles should be controlled and monitored to protect children, the elderly, and residents with existing health issues.

There are no air monitors on or off the mine site, but there are particulate matter limitations in the lifetime air permit provided by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.  Residents have concerns about the coal dust and fumes emanating from Deer Run.  They want to know what is in the air they are breathing.

The response to the air monitor petition to Mayor Downs can be summed up by these 3 possible outcomes:  1) Petitioners are ignored.  2)  The City of Hillsboro covers the cost  of the monitor installation.  3)  Hillsboro Energy LLC accepts the responsibility and expense of the air monitoring.  Regrettably, Number 1 is the outcome that has happened since the petition was presented to the Mayor on October 8, 2013.

The quality of air in Hillsboro is an important issue to discuss at the 5 year renewal of Deer Run Mine’s Permit 399.  This Public Hearing will be held on February 19, 2014, 6 pm, at the Historic Courthouse in the County Board Room.  Citizens can and must protect their community and health.  Contact Mayor Downs at City Hall at  217-532-6615 and let him know your concerns.

For more information download this article by Sue Bradbury, THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF BREATHING THE AIR NEAR COAL MINES.