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.

 

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.

Fracking Added to Coal Mining in Illinois Will Compound Environmental Impacts

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.

Deer Run Hearing Underscores Citizens’ Frustrations

 

The proposed toxic coal waste impoundment will be nearly twice the size of the existing one pictured here.

The proposed toxic coal waste impoundment will be nearly twice the size of the existing one pictured here.

The Hillsboro Energy, LLC Deer Run Mine located within the city limits of the City of Hillsboro in Montgomery County has been a source of frustration for area residents since its inception nine years ago. The June 4th, Illinois EPA permit hearing regarding pollution discharges from a new, giant coal waste disposal area at the mine was no exception.

Read more . . . .

 

Deer Run Mine Permit Renewal Demonstration and Hearing

Deer Run Feb 19 2014 permit 399 renewal pre-hearing protest 011

Citizens stand at the Abraham Lincoln statue on the public square across from the courthouse to protest the renewal of Permit #399 for the Deer Run Mine located within the city limits of Hillsboro.

Deer Run Feb 19 2014 pre-hearing protest 007

Five years ago citizens requested an administrative review of Permit #399, for which they are still waiting. In the meantime, coal has been pouring out of Deer Run Mine and the time has already come for the 5-year permit renewal. Citizens are asking for justice.

Deer Run 399 Renewal IDNR Public Hearing Feb 19 2014 Mary Ellen DeClue 034

Nine citizens gave comments and asked questions at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources public hearing.