Statewide Alliance Calls For End to Subsidies and Misinformation
Supporters of the Heartland Coalfield Alliance, a statewide coalition of community and environmental organizations, held a rally outside the Thompson Center today, calling on the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (IDCEO) to stop the waste of taxpayer funds on a school curriculum the group calls a publicly financed marketing campaign for the coal industry. “If our young people are to be taught about coal, then let’s tell them the whole truth, not a one-sided, biased and self-serving story contrived for the benefit of Illinois economic interests and the coal industry” said Lan Richart, Co-Director of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, a founding member of the Alliance.
The IDCEO currently produces and distributes a school curriculum for elementary and high school students entitled “From the Coal Mines to the Power Lines”. The program encourages children to make ads for coal and teaches that it is not clear whether the combustion of fossil fuels has led to a warming climate. Opponents of the program, including the Alliance, point out that the curriculum makes little mention of coal’s liabilities, of the environmental damage caused by its mining, burning or waste disposal, nor of its documented effects on public health.
Last year educational publisher Scholastic came under fire from parents and educators for distributing a similar curriculum funded by the American Coal Foundation. Scholastic later withdrew the curriculum after receiving 60,000 comments.
A Freedom of Information request filed by Eco-Justice Collaborative revealed that since 2005 the IDCEO has distributed nearly 700 copies of the curriculum to teachers, organizations and individuals interested in the coal education program. In that same time period, records show that the State has spent nearly $175,000 to fund an annual three-day teachers’ retreat to Rend Lake Resort in southern Illinois to provide instruction on the use of the curriculum. The IDCEO curriculum is funded through the Electricity Excise Tax Law and is part of a much larger complement of subsidies to the coal industry. In 2011 the IDCEO spent approximately $18 million on their Coal Development and Marketing Division.
Following the rally, representatives of the Alliance, including Lan Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative; Brian Perbix, Prairie Rivers Network; and Sandy Carter, Caroline Wooten, Edward Warden and Ana Ahmeti, Chicago Youth Climate Coalition delivered a letter signed by over 35 environmental and educational organizations asking the Illinois DCEO to stop distributing the curriculum. The letter also asked DCEO to recall those curricula that have been distributed and postpone the 2012 teachers retreat until the curriculum is revised to reflect an honest evaluation of coal as a fuel source. “We know better than to let even the most supplemental coal education curriculum find its way into our education system said DePaul University student Ana Ahmeti. We need a vision of a clean energy future–not the gilded promise of a clean coal economy”
The Heartland Coalfield Alliance is a state-wide coalition working to educate residents about the full array of impacts associated with a dependence on coal as a primary fuel source and to promote a gradual transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one reliant on conservation, efficiency and clean, safe, renewable energy sources. Eco-Justice Collaborative is a founding member of the Alliance.