For eight years, between 2004 and 2011, Springfield Coal Company’s 5,651-acre Industry Mine in McDonough and Schuyler Counties violated its water permit 624 times. Pollutants including sulfates, iron, manganese, pH and total suspended and settled solids were released at 16 of 17 outflow points into tributaries of Grindstone Creek. Grindstone Creek flows into the LaMoine River, which flows into the Illinois River.
In 2009, the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network (PRN) and Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) notified the state of their intent to sue over 363 permit violations. In response, on February 10, 2010, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed a suit before the Pollution Control Board. On the 25th ELPC filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Sierra Club and PRN. Over the course of the next two years Industry Mine continued to rack up pollution violations, which today amount to 624.
In a ruling released on November 16th, the Illinois Pollution Control Board found Springfield Coal Company’s Industry Mine in violation of its water permit. Springfield Coal and its predecessor, Freeman United Coal Mining Company, face a maximum penalty of $64 million.
The penalty phase of the lawsuit will take place at a hearing at a future date to be determined. Although the Board rarely imposes the maximum fine, its our opinion that this fine should be substantial enough to send a clear message to Springfield Coal and the industry as a whole that clean water standards in Illinois will be enforced!
The extreme number of pollution violations at Industry Mine is of particular concern because Springfield Coal is also seeking permits to open two new strip mines in west-central Illinois. One, the North Canton Mine strip mine is proposed directly upstream from Canton Lake, Canton’s public water supply for over 20,000 people.
We commend everyone who took part in this important case, which demands the protection public waterways from chronic violators. From the engaged citizens who saw what was going on and knew they had to take action, to the Attorney General’s Office that took up this case, to the Pollution Control Board that did a thorough review of the data, all played an important role in a system that works if we pay attention and stay involved.