Illinois has vast reserves of high-energy, high-sulfur coal that lay under much of our state. But when the Clean Air Act was amended in the 1990’s, Illinois’ coal was determined to be too polluting to burn, putting an end to much of that state’s coal mining industry. Phase I of the Act required American industries to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide emissions produced by their coal-burning power plants. Although the installation of scrubbers would have enabled companies to reduce the pollution from high-sulfur coal, most preferred to switch to a low-sulfur coal product rather than install costly pollution control equipment.
Click image to watch the impacts of coal mining in Illinois
Photos are from EJC delegations to central and southern Illinois
But now, new federal rules are forcing power plants to add SO2 scrubbers to remove pollutants, making high-sulfur Illinois coal more cost competitive with low-sulfur coal once again.
Mining for coal can be destructive to our land and water resources. Burning it pollutes the air and causes premature deaths. Yet – last year, coal supplied about 30% of our planet’s energy needs! But coal also is responsible for a third of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas producing climate change. James Hansen, chief climate scientist, NASA, says we need to stop burning coal by 2030 if we want any chance of preserving life on this planet for future generations.
Eco-Justice Collaborative’s delegations to central and southern Illinois highlight the destruction of corporations’ quest for coal and profit. Impacts destroy land, water and lives. They include:
- Subsided farmland from longwall mining. This is a highly mechanized form of mining that uses a machine with a 5.5-foot shearer to cut slices 3.5 feet thick from a coal seam that’s 1,400 feet wide – i.e., a long wall of coal.
- Pollution of surface and groundwaters from coal slurry, a byproduct of processing coal. Slurry contains arsenic, heavy metals and other pollutants that are stored in large impoundments that rise 100 feet or more above adjacent agricultural lands. Slurry from Monterey 1 Mine near Germantown, Illinois found its way into a shallow aquifer from a coal slurry impoundment, severely contaminating groundwater. In Carlinville, Illinois pollutants have been found under property near the Shay 1 Mine.
- Injection of coal slurry into abandoned mine shaft. The state has already allowed the practice at the Crown Mine 3 near Girard, and the owner of the Shay 1 Mine near Carlinville, has applied for permission. The danger is serious enough that the practice of injecting coal slurry into the ground has been curtailed in West Virginia.
- Coal dust from outdoor storage piles, loading areas. Coal dust that blows across open fields from stockpiles and loaded coal cars staging on adjacent train tracks is a public health concern. Inhalation of coal dust can permanently damage lung tissue. Children, people with chronic illnesses and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.
- Toxic coal ash and sludge placed in unlined ponds. At the Lake of Egypt plant near Marion, this includes six ponds, one unlined landfill. Slow seepage of the ash’s metals from these unlined ponds has poisoned water supplies, damaged ecosystems and jeopardized citizens’ health.
- Communities turned into a strip-mined wasteland. Eagle Creek is an example of how mining companies have destroyed not just homes, forests and streams, but actual communities – some with histories dating back to the mid 1880’s. Dynamite is used to remove overburden to access coal.
- Citations and fines that highlight hazardous working conditions for miners. According to Sourcewatch, the Galatia mining complex in Saline County, Illinois incurred over 2,700 citations and $2.4 million in proposed fines since 2005. This is the largest underground mine in the Midwest and one of the largest in the country.