Illinois Coal Mine Violated Water Permit 624 Times, Pollution Control Board Sets Stage for Fines

CHICAGO – The Illinois Pollution Control Board has ruled that Springfield Coal Company’s Industry Mine in McDonough and Schuyler Counties violated its water permit 624 times between 2004 and 2011.

In a ruling released Friday, the Board found violations for pollutants including sulfates, iron, manganese, pH and total suspended and settled solids that were recorded at 16 of 17 outflow points. The pollutants were released into tributaries of Grindstone Creek, which flows into the LaMoine River. The LaMoine River flows into the Illinois River.

“The extreme number of pollution violations at this mine shows the need for strong enforcement of clean water standards to protect the public,” said Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Board should impose a large enough fine to send the right economic signals for this mine company to stop polluting our waterways.”

The maximum penalty facing Springfield Coal Company, and its predecessor, Freeman United Coal Mining Company, is $64 million. However, the Board has rarely imposed fines greater than $100,000.

In 2009, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club notified the state of their intent to sue over permit violations. In response, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed a suit before the Pollution Control Board. The groups intervened in that case and presented their review of mine data, which showed the 624 violations.

“Engaged citizens saw what was going on and knew they had to take action,” said Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We commend the Attorney General’s Office for taking up this case, and the Pollution Control Board for its thorough review of the data. This is a case where the system worked and it shows just how important it is to remain involved.”

Traci Barkley, Water Resource Scientist for Prairie Rivers Network, believes this could be a landmark case in upholding clean water standards in Illinois and hopes mine operators work to improve their pollution control efforts.

“We believe there is a strong case for a significant fine in this case,” Barkley said. “For eight years, this mine sent its pollution into the public waterways with no regard for the impacts they could have on the people of Illinois and our environment. This operator is also seeking permits to open two new strip mines in west-central Illinois, one draining to Canton’s public water supply.  Our public waterways need strong protection from chronic violators. ”

Kim Sedgwick, a Macomb resident who has fought to protect the natural areas of McDonough and Schuyler Counties, said the news was a needed step forward.

“What has taken place along Grindstone Creek and surrounding sediment ponds these past few decades in McDonough County is unspeakable.  We all agree that justice must be done, and fines are to be paid,” Sedgwick said. “This is a monumental step toward monitoring mining companies in our state.”

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