IDNR Dodges Questions about Fire

Nearly fifty concerned residents, local officials and area farmers gathered at the Montgomery’ County’s Historic Courthouse on February 11, 2016, to voice their concerns over the proposed 7,731-acre expansion of Deer Run Mine, while an underground fire burns in the existing mine. This expansion is nearly twice the size of the original mine.

Scott Fowler

Scott Fowler, Land Reclamation Division Supervisor, Mines and Minerals Office, Department of Natural Resources presided over the February 11, 2016 informal conference. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative

Scott Fowler, Division Manager and Hearing Officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Mines and Minerals made it clear from the onset of the evening that this informal conference was not the place to raise concerns about the fire. Those concerns, he said, needed to be discussed with the Department’s Division of Mine Safety Training, and no one was present at this meeting to hear those concerns.

An informal conference is supposed to be an opportunity for questions and answers regarding a new coal mine permit application, revision, or renewal. But questions related to the fire were not deemed to be applicable by the Department, despite the fact that residents and farmers were concerned not only about imminent threats from the fire (including the release of carbon monoxide), but also the ability of the applicant, Foresight Energy, to guarantee that the fire either could be contained or extinguished, so that it would not spread to the expanded mine.

Critics say the IDNR is too friendly to coal companies, including Foresight. Amid such criticism, in 2014 reforms to the agency’s coal mine permitting process were announced. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is considering legal action against the state’s natural resources agency for what prosecutors call a failure to follow the terms of a court-brokered 2014 plan to toughen oversight of coal mines.

Summary of Concerns

Longwall mining is a highly-mechanized method of underground coal mining where the area mined is planned to cave  behind the workers as the machine advances, carving out large blocks of coal.

  • Farmland – Thousands of acres of flat, prime farmland will be subsided (dropped four to six feet).
  • Water Resources – Mining ill subside the western edges of Coffeen Lake, which is an IDNR Fish and Wildlife area, as well as portions of Bear Creek and McDavid Branch.
  • No Bonding Required – Although there will be damage to water resources and farmland from subsidence, no additional bonding is planned for Deer Run mine expansion.

Video clip by Eco-Justice Collaborative

Water Pollution
There are two, above-ground impoundments for storage of toxic coal waste.

  • Leaking Contaminants – If either impoundment leaks, streams used by used by cattle and wildlife and Hillsboro Lake, a source of drinking water for the community, would be polluted,  Surface waters around the mine already show evidence of contamination, as indicated by their high conductivity.
  • Potential Breach – If either impoundment fails homes and businesses  would be damaged (based on inundation maps).

Air Pollution
Residents are concerned that the mine processing plant in Hillsboro that currently is producing air pollution and causing health risks would only be prolonged with a mine expansion. Residents have endured coal dust, fumes, and noxious odors since the mine began operating in 2011, and these unhealthy events would be increased

Local farmers expressed their ongoing concerns about long-term drainage problems.  They asked how subsided farmland would be reclaimed, and learned that there is no formulated plan for handling water drainage on subsided land, and  no timeframe for completion.

Video clip by Eco-Justice Collaborative

Fiscal Solvency
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, since parent company Foresight Energy may file for bankruptcy. Many expressed concerns about how future reclamation costs would be paid after the mine closes.

Lowered Property Values
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 existing and planned mine expansion make selling a home, farm, or business at fair market value more difficult, if not impossible.

See: Citizens Against Longwall Mining and IDNR Feels the Heat

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