Category Archives: Tales From the Pit

A series of mining horror stories in Illinois.

Citizens Speak Out in Favor of More Stream Protection at Coal Mines

Citizens for clean water.

Citizens for clean water.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has proposed a new rule for regulation of coal mining intended to better protect streams, fish, and wildlife from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and impacts to streams from underground mining. 

The proposed rule would update the nearly 30-year-old rule coal mines now operate under and:

  • include regulatory requirements for addressing the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • require mine operators to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation.
  • adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams.
  • ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, including ephemeral streams.
  • ensure that mine operators and regulatory authorities make use of the most current science and technology
  • ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.
  • update and codify the requirements and dispute resolution procedures involved when the proposed permit or adjacent areas contain federally listed threatened or endangered species and designated critical habitat.

OSMRE held six public hearings in Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, W. Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Illinois Chapter Sierra Club gives a loud shout out to the 38 citizens from Illinois, Missouri and Indiana who attended the Missouri hearing to tell their stories of destruction and pollution. They included citizens on the frontline from: Peabody’s Rocky Branch Mine in Saline County, Springfield Coal’s Industry Mine in McDonough County, Foresight Energy’s Deer Run Mine in Montgomery County and Pond Creek Mine in Williamson County, Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog Mine in Vermilion County, and many more supporters from across the region.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Everyone did an excellent job of telling their stories and tying them to aspects of the draft rule. In fact, OSMRE staff presiding over the hearing thanked our folks for attending and extended high praise for telling such powerful, compelling stories.

Those testifying on the side opposing new, protective rules for clean water included representatives for Congressmen John Shimkus, Rodney Dave and Mike Bost, and State Representatives Terri Bryant and Avery Bourne. Due to some tricky maneuvering to have others hold their place in line, the vast majority, including those mentioned above, were the first to speak. Unfortunately, our elected officials did not bother to stick around to hear what their constituents, some of whom drove over 200 miles, had to say!

All hands-in celebration after the hearing.

All-hands-in celebration after the hearing.

Others in opposition included the Illinois Coal Association and the Indiana Coal Council and industry representatives from Foresight Energy, American Coal, Peabody Coal, Murray, Knight Hawk Coal, Alliance Coal, Sunrise Coal, Arch Coal. The main talking points among the opposition were that the new rules are: redundant, a solution without a problem, going to cause massive job loss, cause the lights to go out, cause severe rate hikes–all intermixed with lots of Obama blaming and some Sierra Club bashing.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior. OSMRE was created in 1977 when Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. OSMRE works with states and tribes to ensure that citizens and the environment are protected during coal mining and that the land is restored to beneficial use when mining is finished. Today, most coal states, including Illinois, have developed their own programs to do those jobs. OSMRE focuses on overseeing the state programs and developing new tools, such as the proposed Stream Protection Rule, to help the states and tribes get the job done.



Time To Protect the Prairie State From Coal Mining

Across the Illinois countryside, rural citizens are fighting for their livelihoods, drinking water, farms, and future, and they are asking if the State of illinois has their backs – or not.   Last week, these residents came together to call on Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and his administration to end the long era of state government promoting coal and protecting it from regulation, an to step up to protect the Prairie State from a new coal rush.

Coal mining is surging in Illinois.   Since 2010, Illinois’ coal output as increased 42%.   As regulators crack down on coal mine pollution in other eastern states, Illinois’ historically lax regulation and lack of any tax on coal have put a big bullseye on our farms and forests. It’s not that we need or even use the coal here in Illinois – far from it.   Illinois coal is far too dirty to burn in most Illinois coal plants, and we’ve begun moving to cleaner sources of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal power. Big multinational companies are hoping that Illinois will not stand in their way, or tax them as other states do, as they dig up the countryside and ship it across the globe to coal plants that are allowed to burn Illinois coal despite its higher pollution content.   CItizens are calling on the state to do better.

“Often we feel that those who are there to protect us are fighting against us,” said Mary Ellen DeClue, of Litchfield and member of Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM).   DeClue and her neighbors are worried about a proposed 80-foot “high hazard” dam that would store mine waste in the city of Hillsboro.   The hazard was not disclosed in the original mine permit application.   “The lack of information about proposed mines and major changes that are made after the public comment period make it hard for the public to know what will happen to their community,” said DeClue.

Coalfield residents are also alarmed at weak enforcement against coal companies when they violate environmental laws designed to protect water supplies and public health.   “Illinois should be throwing the book at violators who cut corners and jeopardize our water supply, not giving them permission to pollute again,” said Ramona Cook, who is worried that repeat violator Springfield Coal Company, which has violated the Clean Water Act over 600 times at its Industry coal mine, will also cut corners and break the law at the proposed Littelton mine near her home.  “The Industry mine continues to pollute while the IDNR renewed permits and put area streams at risk,” said Cook.

Citizens are welcoming reforms announced last week in an agreement between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, IDNR announced ten changes to the way Illinois considers applicaitons for new coal mines.   The changes include better coordination between IDNR scientists working to protect the environment and those considering mining permits; putting more complete information about mining proposals online, and not taking adversarial positions against citizens during mining hearings.   IDNR also recently announced further reforms,
including inspections all coal waste storage lagoons, such as those that have failed disastrously in other states recently, and steps to prevent conflicts of interest among mining regulators.

“We applaud IDNR and the Attorney General’s office for these new commitments to reform Illinois mining regulation,” said Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “They will not solve all of the problems overnight, but these are big first steps toward an Office of Mines and Minerals that gives more consideration to people and our environment— in line with existing mining laws.”

In addition to the new steps toward reform, citizens point to the past as a sign better days may be ahead.   In 2005, then Lt. Governor Quinn and staff Marc Miller, now DNR Director, stood with the citizens of Banner, Illinois against a proposed strip mine in wetlands of the Illinois River valley.   Community opposition backed by state leadership stopped that mine, which threatened the Village of Banner and two state conservation areas – Banner Marsh, and Rick Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area.

“I am thankful for then-Lt. Governor Pat Quinn and Attorney General Madigan for their support in our efforts,” said Ken Fuller, Mayor of the Village of Banner.  “It is clear that a group of concerned citizens can make a difference.”

These problems didn’t begin on Governor Quinn’s watch.   For a century, Illinois has promoted the coal industry and protected it from robust regulation.  However, we now know how much is at stake for our drinking water, our natural heritage, and our climate.  It’s time to turn the page at IDNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals, and protect the Prairie State from coal companies that have rural Illinois in their sights.  Residents are hoping that reforms announced this Spring mark the end of the days when Illinois protected big coal, and instead puts the people and the environment first.    We have seen Governor Quinn and Director Miller do this before, and now we need that kind of leadership more than ever to protect local communities and our resources for future generations.

The Legend of Spanish Needle Creek and the Fight for Clean Water


Contributed by Traci Barkley, Prairie Rivers Network

The dense grey fog permeated the frigid October morning around Spanish Needle Creek. No longer do deer, wild turkeys, or foxes drink from the clear, babbling brook. And the days of children splashing in the water and gleefully fishing are long gone.

In past years, the Extractors systemically destroyed everything that stood in their path while working day and night to exhume what they thought was black gold out of the ground, calling the site Monterey Mine 1. They only wanted the pure black coal to sell for a profit, but their rough, greedy and careless work brought up much more, like releasing angry spirits that can never be subdued again. They brought millions of tons of course gob and tried with all their might to wash the impurities from the coal, but only created filthy polluted sludge.

The Extractors dumped it on Spanish Needle Creek, perhaps with hopes that something so fresh, clear and clean could cleanse the evil they had exposed. A life sentence was imposed then on Spanish Needle Creek and all that relied upon its life forces. Today, millions of tons of toxic coal slurry sit at the headwaters, impounded precariously behind walls of piled rock. If these walls were to fail, Lake Carlinville, the drinking water supply for thousands, will forever be poisoned and miles of farmland, homes and wilderness will be buried.

If you dare, there is an even more sinister twist to this tale. The Extractors got out of the coal business after getting caught nearly eternally poisoning the drinking water supply at their other mine, Monterey Mine 2, near Germantown and Albers and didn’t want to wait around to see what their maniacal work might unleash at the Monterey Mine 1. Enter the next wave of villains, the Desecrators, who wanted their opportunity to extract wealth from the mine. By this time, it was clear that the piles of coal waste were degrading and releasing their pollutants such as salts and heavy metals into the underlying water.  Buried for life and now seeping pollution was more than the groundwater source and stream could bear.  Cattle downstream were getting sick, wildlife were walking further and further from their drinking holes and families started moving away and warning their children not to go into the water. After some smoke and mirrors to the residents and regulators, the desecrators thought the problem would go away and that they could escape the Coal Curse. But state regulators at the Illinois EPA issued a violation notice for the groundwater pollution and have now referred the case to the Illinois Attorney General. Residents and clean water advocates alike are working for justice in this case, challenging the permit continuing use of these looming, seeping toxic pits that continue to poison and threaten downstream and area residents. Perhaps an exorcism of the evil that the extractors and desecrators unearthed is in order…

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Bulldog: A Mine that Bites!


Contributed by Sue Forsyth of Stand Up to Coal

Deep in the heart of East Central Illinois’ prime and productive farmland lies a predator waiting to come to life. This predator takes many forms and could be considered a shape shifter in certain circles. It even has a catchy name and logo- Bulldog Mine (Strong, Fearless, Loyal) which aims to take attention away from the destructive and dangerous intentions this predator has to harm the air and land by room and pillar mining coal and shipping it outside of Illinois to a destination unknown.

Shape shifting is a specialty of The Bulldog Mine. Attractive and well-spoken agents cast a spell upon property owners to lease mineral rights, sometimes against the property owner’s better judgment. Most of the time the leases are so full of legalese that they are difficult to unravel and decipher, but the common thread is that the leases benefit only the predator in the long run. When the coal is mined and nothing is left but the threat of subsidence, the mine can turn a blind eye and morph into the producers of the next energy rush.

None of that is scary compared to the proposed seven hundred foot slurry retention pond that would be home to the remnants of the coal washing process. This proposed Mountain of Doom would be located in the middle of productive farmland and visible for miles in any direction. The components of the mountain slurry would contain mercury, arsenic, selenium, and other disgusting chemicals that are a product of making the coal marketable. Will these dangerous residual chemicals leech in to the ground and contaminate drinking water? Something to ponder on a dark chilly night as it is a scary scenario not outside the realm of possibility, even with safeguards in place.

Scarier still is the coal dust that will be created and transported wherever the howling wind takes it. From the mining surface facility where excess coal will be stockpiled in enormous mounds, to the transport of the coal itself in train cars pilfering dust along the way to its destination, or transported by diesel trucks that will allow the dust to escape into the air we and our families breathe. This doesn’t begin to touch upon the mining techniques themselves that are the leading cause of the fatal Black Lung disease that many miners die from.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect above and beyond the health implications is the wasteful and myopic use of water this predator will use to further the mining process. If only 1 percent of all of the world’s fresh water is accessible for direct human use, it should be a crime that predators like The Bulldog Mine should be able to utilize it for their own selfish gain. By using up to half a million gallons of treated (yes treated) water per day to wash coal, this mine seems to be saying they do not care about the finiteness of resources like fresh water. This should scare anybody that profits are put above populations that rely on that water to exist and flourish. They are essentially saying that their enterprise is more important and should be placed above all else.

In this time of renewable energy and efficiency there is a declining need for this kind of archaic energy source. Many organizations are shying away from using coal and are recognizing the need for cleaner, safer, and more productive energy sources. In fact, there is a movement for organizations to financially divest from fossil fuels altogether. This is the future of energy and those operating in the past will find themselves as a relic, just like the fossils they are harvesting for fuel. They will be nothing more than ghosts haunting the abandoned mines they used to operate.

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Deer Run Mine’s Extended Halloween Celebration


WARNING:  This story is not to read by the timid or those prone to nightmares.

Once upon a time there was a clever Werewolf that convinced the leaders of Montgomery County and the City of Hillsboro, Illinois that they needed and deserved a coal mine in their city. Happy thoughts of many jobs and more money in the community were served with smiles and pleasantries.  Many fantasies and myths assured the community that Deer Run Mine would only bestow treats with no tricks.

Permit #399 was approved by the protectors of the community — the Illinois Department of Natural Resources/Office of Mines and Minerals (IDNR/OMM) and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). Some land owners and residents were doubtful of the protections that were promised, but their voices that echoed through the treeless horizon were silenced.

These past echoes, however, collected and reformed to create a force to fight the darkness and myths. This force is called Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM) and it continues to brighten the darkness with facts and to enlighten others with hope to do the right thing.

CALM delved into the fantasy of coal mining promises. Can magic really awaken the sunken graves caused by longwall mining? Farming is so much more productive if the land is level and drained without sunken ravines being created.

The promise that water resources would not be destroyed by the evil sinking of land was the easiest myth to bust. All goblins, witches, and vampires know that water seeks its own level, if land sinks, water sinks. Should we even address the myth that streams can be created?  Check with Pennsylvania about the folly of how few streams were fixed after being sunk by longwall mining.

CALM is not convinced that surface and ground waters will not be contaminated, since the most toxic and nasty stuff from coal is not monitored. The Clean Water Act is only as good as it is enforced.  Even with known National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) violations, little is corrected and the darkness continues.

One very mystical happening was arranged by IDNR/OMM. It strangely converted an in-ground coal slurry disposal area to an above ground high hazard coal slurry impoundment dam in the City of Hillsboro in close proximity to the hospital, nursing home, daycare, and homes. The high hazard dam classification even made the skeletons sit up in fearful fright

Well, fellow goblins, if you think it can’t get any worse, you are WRONG! Permit #424 submitted by Deer Run Mine proposes a second much larger (1/2 by 2 miles) high hazard coal slurry dam impoundment that is even closer to the City of Hillsboro and Schram City. The zombies were astonished that there was no risk assessment.  The location of the second impoundment threatens thousands of residents with loss of life and property if the coarse coal embankment ever fails over its lifetime, which is forever, remaining as a threat to the community forever.

The Witches’ Council clued CALM into another huge problem. Within their flight pattern, there is a coal processing plant at Deer Run Mine that spews coal dust that makes them cough. The Witches brooms were no match for the black dust and the effect it had on their lungs. How frightening that the IEPA, that is responsible for protecting air quality and that realizes the need to limit particulate matter (PM) exposure, has failed to require testing or monitoring of PM at the mine site or in the community.

Realizing that everyone, not just the Witches, were at risk, CALM asked the citizens attending Old Settlers Event in Hillsboro in August to sign a petition to ask the Mayor of Hillsboro to facilitate the placement of air monitors at the hospital and nursing home.  The petition was well received with a total of 364 signatures that was later presented and well received by the Mayor of Hillsboro.

The community has paid dearly for the mining jobs and the potential financial gain; the tricks far out weigh the treats; we all need clean air, productive farmland, and wonderful water for apple bobbing.


Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Say No to Deer Run Mine Thursday, Oct. 31st @ 10:30 AM. Join us at a public hearing in Springfield at One Natural Resources Way Springfield, IL 62702

Starved Rock Stalker

squidwardWhat if it wasn’t the woods where the spooky ghoulish terrors lie, but out in the open right beside them? The fright of the Mississippi Sand Company Mine will have you running as deep into the forests of the Starved Rock State Park as you can.

With this 315 acre sand mine, you don’t need to be afraid of the dark—in fact glare lighting at the site will keep you up all night.  There might not be any vampires, ghosts, or zombies, but there is something very unnatural that should give you a fright.  Toxic silica dust.

Mississippi Sand Mine will blast rock formations containing St. Peter Sandstone, releasing thousands of particles of silica dust daily.  Silica dust is a known carcinogen, with particles so tiny they seep into your lungs and can lead to silicosis and other respiratory disease.  If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, consider this: recently mined silica dust is even more toxic and can travel up to 15 miles from the original site.

The air isn’t the only hazard from this mine, poised to started operating any day.  Mississippi Sand discharge an average of 1.4 MGD of storm water and pit pumpage into Horseshoe Creek—a tributary to the Illinois River that runs through Starved Rock State Park.  That means the toxic silica dust and the flocculants used to mine the sand would find their ways into our waterways.

What’s even spookier is the precedent Mississippi Sand, IDNR and LaSalle County has sent.  If we allow sand mines next to our most prized state parks, where will they come next? Keep your eyes open.

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from mining horror stories!

Beware: A Scary Tale Forewarned

halloween catIt’s Halloween and North Canton Mine is up and running at last.
Everything the old hags, old folks and CACEI predicted has come to pass.
The animals are gone and the trees too.
The goblins can’t hide and scare you with a “boo.”

The eagles fly high with no place to perch.
Their nests are all gone, sending them on a search.
The coyotes have left with their nightly howling noise.
Now it’s blasting and lights to keep you annoyed.

Meanwhile back on the once beautiful land that had a story to tell,
The devil and his witches have destroyed our lake and wells.
The cemetery was moved, it’s gone and so went the dead.
This what the environmentalist foretold, with dread.

The underground railroad that saved many lives,
Was part of our history and now is gone forever instead.
Instead of “hoot, hoot, hoot”, the owls say “boo hoo”.
And the poor little Turtles Doves no longer coo.

Where once stood a deer so proud and tall,
Now he turns tail and runs as the trees fall.
The fertile farm fields are now in ruin, times are darkest,
There are no longer large crops for the farmers to harvest.

The beautiful streams that once flowed freely,
Are full of dead critters and fish on their bellies.
All by himself, stands a lonely scarecrow,
‘cause in the barren farmland, nothing will grow.

We rush to the faucet to get a drink, we try,
No water comes out, the well has gone dry.
Instead of clean vapors arising from the lake,
Now it’s just toxic gasses, to save the lake it’s too late.

The above-mentioned area is surely now a ghostly site,
A few temporary jobs will never set things right.
There go the monstrous trucks running down the highway,
Look out, get over or you’ll be squashed and left by the byway.

Witches around their Pot of Gold, cackling “hee, hee, hee”.
Just wait, time will tell, but it will be too late when the truth you see.
A coal mine with many skeletons in the closet,
To the Citizens of Canton, they really have “socked it.”

Thanks to CACEI (Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues) for their scary tale
Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from Mining Horror Stories!

Tell Governor Quinn to Protect the Prairie State from Mining Horror Stories!