From Illinois Business Journal news services
ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Clean water advocates from across Southern Illinois and Missouri testified at a public hearing on Thursday, calling on the Office of Surface Mining Enforcement and Regulation to strengthen new mining pollution protections.
The protections, known as the Stream Protection Rule, govern how water pollution from mining operations is tested, regulated, controlled and enforced.
“Citizens must have a right to go to the courts when mining companies pollute their local rivers, lakes and streams,” said Ramona Cook, neighbor of Springfield Coal Company’s Industry Mine in Schuyler County, Ill. “We’re here today to call on the Office of Surface Mining Enforcement and Regulation to implement strong clean water protections that enshrine the basic right of every resident to act in her, or her property’s, own defense against destructive mining practices and mining pollution.”
The current form of the new Stream Protection Rules does not clearly give community members the right to take mining companies to court over pollution issues – a key sticking point for many community and environmental groups.
“I want to believe that our state and federal agencies were created to protect our environment and all living things from dangerous pollution, but I discovered while fighting for our homes in Rocky Branch this just isn’t true. Our lives, our homes, our food, our air, and our water, all have been affected. We’ve had to step in as citizens to fight big corporations to protect our land and water,” said Judy Kellen, neighbor of Peabody Coal’s Rocky Branch mine in Southern Illinois. “Citizens should always have a voice in protecting their local waterways. A strong Stream Protection Rule will ensure that concerned folks will have the ability to hold polluters accountable for years to come.”
The Office of Surface Mining Enforcement and Regulation’s proposed Stream Protection Rule represents the first major changes to federal mining regulations in decades. It has important implications not only for longwall and strip mining in southern Illinois, but for all types of surface coal mining around the nation as well as destructive mountaintop removal coal mining typical in Appalachia. The new rules will protect over 6,000 miles of national streams with extensive monitoring harmed by mining. The protections will also limit damage from longwall mining and provide key definitions of what mining damage is and how to measure it, critical for stronger enforcement of water protections across the country.
While the St. Charles hearing was the only one in this region, communities from across the country will be sites of such testimony over the course of September.
Supporters of rules changes want the government to go further in addressing what they see as critical holes in the current Stream Protection Rule. Foremost, they argue that community members must be able to engage in meaningful legal action to ensure that these protections can be met by enabling these protections to be directly enforceable under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.
Citizen suits are historically one of the key mechanisms by which pollution protections have been enforced and the groups argue that the same must be true here.
Second, pollution monitoring must occur directly at “outfalls” those places where mining operations directly discharge their pollution into waterways.
Finally, OSMRE must strengthen its definition of “material damage” to prohibit mining operations that completely eliminates or significantly degrades an existing waterway, supporters say.
“The state of Illinois is home to some of the nation’s most fertile and productive farmland. Mining operations and the pollution dumped into Illinois waterways from coal mining threatens the land we should be preserving and using to bolster the state’s agricultural economy,” Mary Ellen DeClue, Citizens Against Longwall Mining in Montgomery County, Ill. “The Stream Protection Rule must recognize the property damage of coalfield citizens for the economic loss caused by subsidence of land, coal contamination of water resources, coal dust pollution of homes and decreased in pre-mining crop productivity.”
Residents from Missouri joined Southern Illinoisans at the hearing to highlight the connection between local coal-burning utilities like Ameren and coal companies responsible for stream pollution like Peabody Coal.
“Ameren is Peabody Coal’s largest client, meaning that Ameren uses millions of ratepayer dollars to haul in Peabody’s coal from out of state from communities burdened by Peabody’s irresponsible practices. That’s a terrible investment for St. Louis residents,” said Andy Knott, Senior Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in St. Louis. “Every citizen deserves a voice and every community deserves protection from coal pollution. As we work to make St. Louis a safer, healthier place by moving away from Ameren’s coal-fired power, we work in solidarity with every community on the front line impacted by dangerous coal mining pollution.”
Today’s hearing in St. Louis is one of six being held in Denver, CO, Lexington, KY, Pittsburgh, PA, Big Stone Gap, VA and Charleston, WV throughout the month of September.