Those fighting against a permit renewal application for a western Illinois coal mine are flabbergasted by the latest development in the process.
During a public hearing at the Schuyler County Courthouse, representatives from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said the 624 water pollution permit violations racked up at Springfield Coal Company’s Industry mine were combined under a single violation notice by the Illinois EPA – and the DNR will thus treat it as a single violation as it considers whether to renew the mining permit.
“The EPA has written one violation notice for all of those,” said Scott Fowler, Supervisor, DNR Land Reclamation Division. “There’s one violation notice and that’s what we’re held to.”
That did not sit well with Joyce Blumenshine of the Sierra Club.
“I just can’t accept the new kind of whitewash of the violations,” said Blumenshine. “It just makes this whole permitting -- promises that mines are supposed to be in compliance -- sound like, I hate to say it, a joke.”
She also called it an outrage. Blumenshine said the DNR is ducking the fact that Springfield Coal has a horrific compliance record.
Traci Barkley of Prairie Rivers Network also took the DNR to task.
Barkley: “I am just appalled that these are our state regulators from our Department of Natural Resources.”
Donald Pflederer of DNR: “M’am, I can’t make the rules up.”
Barkley: “That’s your interpretation of the rules. That you have to consider the one violation notice and not what is on those pages which is actually meaningful in terms of what you’re supposed to be enforcing here.”
Tri States Public Radio inquired with the IEPA as to why it would combine 624 violations into a single violation notice. A spokesperson said the agency was looking into it but no one ever called back with an explanation.
During the public hearing, a total of six people spoke against the permit renewal while just one person spoke in favor of it. The DNR said Springfield Coal declined an offer a statement.
Written comments about the permit renewal will be accepted by the DNR through Monday, March 10. The agency will then have another 60 days to decide whether to renew the permit, deny it, or ask the company for modifications.
The agency said it will review whether the terms and conditions of the current permit are being met, and it will look at the mine’s compliance history.
But Ramona Cook, who lives near the Industry mine and spoke against the permit renewal, feels it’s already a done deal.
“It really was a futile action to go to that hearing at all. Nobody listened to us. We really don’t have any power,” said Cook.
Those opposed to the permit renewal said they’re especially concerned because the same operators want to open two new mines in the region: one near Canton in Fulton County and the other near Littleton in Schuyler County.