The Illinois state legislature over the years has proved itself a loyal and steadfast friend to the state’s coal industry. It once again reaffirmed its allegiance with its April 3rd overturn of a long awaited initiative to eliminate the Coal Education Program (30 ILCS 730). This curriculum, funded by taxpayers and made mandatory for all Illinois schools by the Illinois Coal Technology and Development Assistance Act, teaches children how the struggling coal industry fights to keep employees in their jobs, how environmental regulation would raise costs and jeopardize electricity production, and how fossil fuel combustion has not been proven to affect the climate. At the end of the program children create a commercial promoting coal as a final project, and can also submit pro-coal artwork in the annual Illinois Coal Calendar Contest.
This curriculum is not only blatant industry propaganda but also factually false – coal mining has actually seen an increase from 33 million tons in 2010 to 52 in 2013. The industry fails to pay environmental penalties as well as healthcare costs for its miners, with a deplorable number of employees receiving insufficient benefits for the treatment of black lung and other industry-related diseases. What should be in required curriculum are the facts: Illinois has long been paying a steep price for its coal industry, from mine explosions killing hundreds to coal ash slurry polluting entire watersheds. The state government is too busy keeping the coal lobby satisfied to worry themselves with petty trivialities like environmental regulation compliance and the federal government has repeatedly refused, despite public outcry, to revoke licenses for mining companies despite repeated violations without reparation.
The state government is largely responsible for big coal’s maneuverability – instead of spending funds to monitor groundwater pollution around mines and inspect proper installation of technologies that reduce air pollution like scrubbers and filters, the state government spent nearly $1 million on the coal education program between 2006 and 2012. Illinois state law lacks many of the necessary requirements for safe coal waste deposition – there are no coal ash landfill requisites for proximity to the water table, composite liners, groundwater monitoring, or state inspection. Tax capital that could be spent decontaminating abandoned mines or replanting areas clear cut for strip mines instead funds programs like an annual, four-day, all-expense paid retreat for teachers to tour coal mines and receive materials for coal “education” in their classrooms.
On March 17th, Citizens Opposing Pollution filed a 60-day intent to sue notice with the federal Department of the Interior on the grounds of numerous violations of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act by Illinois’ coal industry. As Illinois-based attorney Penni Livingston writes,
“forbidden site conditions that poison our drinking water and allow violators to save millions of dollars not complying with long-standing environmental requirements are not consistent with the purpose or meaning of the applicable law and such conditions constitute injustice to our citizens, our system, and our planet.”
Coal mining in Illinois inflicts constant and acute damage to vulnerable ecosystems – the long-term consequences of acid mine drainage and ash slurry are not fully understood but definitely pose a threat to water and air safety. Help Illinoisans drink and breathe without fear, and be the voice for the besieged bionetworks that have seen decades of degradation without governmental stewardship. If you live in Illinois, click here to contact your state legislator today about this unacceptable industrial influence in your children’s classrooms. If you live in the United States, support the current petition by writing a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to ask for stricter regulation of coal operations in Illinois and across our nation. You can read an op-ed in Illinois Issues decrying Lumpy the Coal Industry mascot by Jamey Dunn by clicking here.