Illinois grade school teachers are gathered this week, June 19-22, at the Rend Lake Resort near Mt. Vernon, Illinois for the 15th Annual Coal Education Conference sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Each year, IDCEO spends up to $70,000 for this all-expense-paid teachers’ retreat. While our children’s teachers deserve to be recognized for their dedication and hard work, this particular retreat is nothing more than a corporate ploy to advance the coal industry’s “clean coal” message through grade school lesson plans at taxpayer expense.
“From the Coal Mines to the Power Lines” classroom curriculum was developed through a partnership with corporate coal interests such as Knight Hawk Mining, Southern Illinois Power Coop and the Illinois Clean Coal Institute, with substantial help from state taxes Illinois citizens pay in utility bills. This educational charade contains scores of lessons carefully crafted by the coal industry, advertising coal as the fuel of the future, while cleverly avoiding any serious discussion of the documented economic, health and environmental effects related to the use of coal.
Children’s pro-coal artwork is used to create a calendar every year. Where’s the renewable energy and energy efficiency calendar?
The curriculum, designed to create a bias toward coal and away from sustainable, clean energy options, teaches our children to doubt that the combustion of fossil fuels has led to a warming climate, despite the fact that 97% of climate experts agree that humans burning fossil fuels is the cause of global warming. It teaches that environmental regulations will significantly raise the cost of producing electricity, when in fact when the full costs of coal are reflected in the market price, the cost of using coal over wind, geothermal, biomass and hydro is considerably higher.
The curriculum has the children creating advertisements for an industry that is responsible for nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, for devastating health effects caused by air pollution, and water pollution caused during every phase of coal’s life cycle.
Each of the nation’s 500 coal-fired power plants produces an average 240,000 tons of toxic waste each year. Coal-fired power plants are the number one source of man-made pollutants.
The curriculum fails to teach our children that coal-fired power plants are the number one source of man-made pollutants responsible for over 1,000 heart attacks, hundreds of premature deaths, and thousands of asthma attacks each year in Illinois. Asthma happens to be the number-one illness that causes kids to miss school.
The curriculum fails to teach our children that mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants is so severe that Illinois has adopted a fish consumption advisory that recommends that children and women of childbearing age limit their consumption of wild caught fish because of the risk of developmental problems in children.
Over 140 million tons of coal ash is produced in the United States every every year. Coal ash contains large quantities of toxic metals, including mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and selenium.
The curriculum fails to teach our children about the impacts to Illinois surface waters from coal mining and coal combustion waste. In the last three years 34 coal mines (47%) in Illinois have been out of compliance with their permit for six months or more and 21 coal mines (29%) have been out of compliance with their permit for 12 months or more. At 24 coal combustion waste sites in Illinois, 22 of them have caused groundwater pollution.
Before coal is burned it goes through a washing process, which generates millions of gallons/day of coal slurry that typically contains elevated levels of pollution such as salts and heavy metals that can be harmful to fish, wildlife, livestock and of course humans. Constructed of coarse coal refuse, this impoundment at Shay I, a mine started in the early 1980s under Exxon Mobile, is typical of what a slurry impoundment looks like. Slurry impoundments typically leak toxins into surface and ground water.
Children are the population that is most vulnerable to the effects of coal pollution, now and into the future. Our children deserve to learn all the facts so they can be prepared for making informed decisions about their future energy choices. If our tax dollars are going to teach young people 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.