Illinois EPA Proposes to Allow Serial Polluter to Operate New Coal Strip Mine Upstream of Canton Lake

Help residents protect their drinking water and ask state regulators to do their jobs – sign the petition now!

North Canton Mine Proximity to Canton Lake and Copperas Creek Thumb

Residents in Canton are worried about their drinking water. Unfortunately, they have good reason to be. Canton Lake, Copperas Creek, and the people who rely on them are under threat from a proposed 1,000-acre strip mine a mile upstream of Canton Lake.

Over 20,000 people rely on Canton Lake for their drinking water and have taken great lengths to protect this precious resource over the years. For many residents and others who travel to the region, this is an area valued for hunting along and fishing in Copperas Creek, the source for Canton Lake.

Any strip mine would be cause for concern; strip mining coal strips the land of trees and vegetation, regrades the land affecting drainage patterns, and creates water pollution. This would be bad for drinking water. But in this case, there is even more cause for concern. The operator of the mining company behind the proposal for the North Canton Mine (Capitol Resources Development Company) is the same operator for the company (Springfield Coal Company) that runs the Industry Mine. Springfield Coal Company is being sued by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan because the Industry Mine’s environmental compliance record is one of the worst for coal mines in Illinois. The case was originally brought by Prairie Rivers Network and the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club in 2009 due to the mine’s continuous violations of its current water permit dating back at least to 2004 and with over 300 Clean Water Act Violations in the past six years.

Despite these problems, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has issued a draft permit to allow them to dump water pollution from constructing and operating the mine into Copperas Creek upstream of Canton Lake. There are no special provisions of the permit that take into account the mine operator’s terrible track record. On Tuesday December 6th, community members will voice their concerns at public hearings in Canton, urging Illinois EPA to reject these permits (download flyer).

Even if the Agency’s permit could assure protection of clean water, habitat and existing resources, local residents who care about Canton Lake and Copperas Creek face what is an even more depressing problem: lack of enforcement of coal mine water pollution permits.

Abysmal track record on polluter accountability

Dig deeper into public records on pollution from coal mines, as Prairie Rivers Network and Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issueshave, and you’ll find that an Illinois EPA-issued permit to regulate water pollution doesn’t mean much if not enforced.

According to the U.S. EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online database, the track record for the 72 coal mines with active water pollution permits in Illinois is abysmal (full summary below): Here are a few highlights:

  • In the last three years, 34 coal mines (47%) have been out of compliance with their permit for 6 months or more.
  • In the last three years, 21 coal mines (29%) have been out of compliance with their permit for 12 months or more.
  • The scope of the pollution violations can be enormous. 40% of coal mines with pollution violations in the past three years (14 of 35) were polluting at levels up to 200 times greater than the allowed amount for some pollutants.

This data is supplied to the Illinois EPA by the coal mine operators themselves. It is hard to say how many more problems might be found if our state regulators actually conducted on-the-ground inspections to ground-truth this self monitoring. Less than 17% have been inspected in the last five years.

What happens when a coal mine does not comply with their pollution permit requirements?

Nothing. No formal enforcement actions on behalf of the Illinois EPA have been undertaken at any of the sites and no penalties for noncompliance have been assessed.

Help Canton Lake, help residents in coal mining communities throughout Illinois

This gross negligence on behalf of the Illinois EPA is hitting home for the residents now facing a direct threat to their drinking water supply from a rogue operator that has yet to be stopped by the system. Some are calling this one of the most “downright stupid strip-mine proposals in the 150-year history of coal mining in Illinois” (be sure to read Jeff Biggers’ great Huffington Post article ).

Prairie Rivers Network is working with many partners to bring fairness and accountability to issuance and enforcement of coal mine water pollution permits. The industry has long flown under regulators’ radar; they have been allowed to operate without modern pollution controls or the expectation that they will be held accountable to the kind of expectations we have for other polluters. We need to take every opportunity to change business as usual.

Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues needs your help. Please help us send a message to Illinois EPA and Governor Quinn by circulating and signing the petition, asking the state to deny permits for this strip mine, proposed in an unsuitable location by a rogue operator.

Additional Resources: Illinois Coal Mine Water Permit Compliance Analysis

In Illinois, coal mine compliance with water pollution permits is reported quarterly. Based on our analysis from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2011, of the 72 coal mines with active NPDES water pollution discharge permits in Illinois:

Over 35 have self-reported non compliance with their permits.

  • In the last three years, 34 of these facilities (47%) have been out of compliance with their permit for 2 quarters (6 months) or more.
  • In the last three years, 21 of these facilities (29%) have been out of compliance with their permit for 4 quarters (12 months) or more.
  • In the last three years, 9 of these facilities (13%)have been out of compliance with their permit for 8 quarters (24 months) or more.
  • In the last three years, 4 of these facilities (6%) have been out of compliance with their permit for 12 quarters – that means out of compliance for every month of the last three years.
  • In the last three years, 12 of these facilities (17%) have had > 10 effluent exceedances.
  • In the last three years, 3 of these facilities (4%) have had > 50 effluent exceedances.

At coal mines not in compliance, operators report discharges of pollution at levels that significantly exceed the limits placed by Illinois EPA’s water permits:

  • 17 of the 35 mines (49%) not in compliance had more than half of their effluent exceedances greater than 50% of the permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 105 mg/L)
  • 15 of the 35 mines (43%) not in compliance had more than half of their effluent exceedances greater than 100% of the permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 140 mg/L)
  • 15 of the 35 mines (43%) not in compliance had instances of permit violations greater than 1000% of their permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 700 mg/L)
  • 14 of the 35 mines (40%) not in compliance had instances of permit violations greater than 19900% of their permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 13,930 mg/L)
  • 8 of the 35 mines (23%) not in compliance had instances of permit violations greater than 29900% of their permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 20,930 mg/L)
  • 6 of the 35 mines (17%) not in compliance had instances of permit violations greather than 39900% of their permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 27,930 mg/L)
  • 2 of the 35 mines not in compliance had instances of permit violations greater than 59900% of their permitted limit (i.e. Permit limit for total suspended solids = 70 mg/L, effluent violation ≥ 41,930 mg/L)

Failure to report water discharge information to the Illinois EPA is pervasive, and full compliance with water pollution permits is rare:

  • Another 25 have been in violation with their permit for not reporting whether their pollution discharges were in compliance with their permits. So, the Agency and the public do not know how these sites are operating.
  • Only 12 have both submitted their reports AND shown they were in compliance with their pollution limits.

To date, Illinois EPA has taken little to no action to force coal mines to comply with the Clean Water Act:

  • Informal enforcement actions have been issued at 12 of the mine sites. Example of this is a letter to the permittee called a “Notice of Violation”.
  • No formal enforcement actions have been undertaken at any of the sites.
  • No penalties for noncompliance have been assessed.
  • Only 12 have had inspections conducted by the Illinois EPA in the last five years.
  • Nineteen of these mines discharge pollution into streams that are already considered “impaired” by the Illinois EPA. That means that the streams are not clean enough to support their designated uses of either drinking water, support for aquatic life, or recreation. Of these, IEPA has evaluated that 17 of the coal mine operations may be a potential contributor to the cause of impairment.