On Saturday October 1st, over 55 students from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Chicago, Depaul University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Loyola University, and the University of Iowa all boarded a bus to hear directly from community members and organizations in central Illinois’ coalfields who are part of the growing movement to push for a just transition beyond coal here in the Illinois basin.
Today’s students represent the future, and it will be up to their generation to carry on the struggle for clean, healthy and sustainable communities in the coalfields of the Midwest.
- The Agricultural Watershed Institute in Decatur where researchers are piloting a project to demonstrate how perennial grasses and native prairie plants can be grown for biomass electricity and heat generation. This alternative energy system would benefit regional water quality, create wildlife habitat, as well as benefit the local economy
- City Water Light & Power on Lake Springfield, currently the biggest in- state consumer of Illinois coal. Will Reynolds, Chair of the Illinois Sierra Club discussed the history of the Midwest Coal Campaign and the victory in cleaning up CWLP’s air emissions, as well as ongoing water contamination and scarcity issues due to coal ash disposal in unlined ash ponds and landfill adjacent to Spring Creek.
- Crown mines near Farmersville. Crown III is the only United Mine Workers of America organized mine left in the state of Illinois. Due to widespread mechanization, the total number of mining jobs in the state has plummeted to fewer than 3,500, and due to union breaking in the 1980’s few union mine jobs remain. At Crown II and Crown III, coal processing refuse and coal ash disposal in unlined and uncovered coal refuse disposal areas threaten surrounding communities’ health from air and water pollution. Students also visited Gob Nob, where Auburn’s Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative operates the southernmost utility scale wind turbine in the state, built on top of 14 acres of coal processing waste from the old Crown I mine.
- Shay I mine south of Carlinville, where adjacent landowners discussed the mine’s history of groundwater contamination from their 6 unlined refuse disposal areas and the pending IEPA enforcement case against the Cline Coal subsidiary that is applying for permits to ramp up production at the site. Local residents also discussed the devastating effects of longwall mining on the surrounding rural farm community. Former mine owner ExxonMobil’s longwall mining emptied homesteads for miles around, and damaged local farmland, roads and streams.
- Deer Run mine in Hillsboro where students met with Citizens Against Longwall Mining. Surface facilities for Cline Coal’s massive new longwall mine are located within the city limits of Hillsboro, and will subside nearly 5,000 acres of farmland in its first phase. CALM members showed students the farmland, streams and homes that will be impacted by the mine.
Students are at the forefront of the movement to stop so called “clean coal” projects in the state. Project’s like Tenaska’s Taylorville Energy Center, a coal gasification plant that would lock Illinois’ communities and economy into overpriced and unhealthy coal energy for decades to come. If the General Assembly continues to give away sweetheart deals to coal companies, it is today’s youth who will have to foot the bill for overpriced energy and coal’s devastating public health and environmental consequences.