Tag: mining

A cautionary tale about how room-and-pillar mining destroys Illinois farmland

Larry Skinner, a farmer from near Newman, Illinois, located in the east-central region of the state, is still dealing with environmental damage from a coal mine under his farm that closed in the 1980’s. Specifically, his farmland is subsiding due to the room-and-pillar mining leaving the ground very weak, especially above where “rooms” created by the mining. Much of Skinner’s land is now unsuitable for farming due to the areas where the ground has sunk being too wet or flooded, and Skinner has to pay out of his own pocket to fix the subsidence, because the mining company that closed the mine under his land all those years ago has long since changed hands.

Skinner’s story, which you can read about here, serves as a cautionary tale about how room-and-pillar coal mining turns some of the most fertile farmland in the entire world into low spots where rainwater collects and renders the land unsuitable for growing crops like corn and soybeans. While room-and-pillar mining is designed to prevent subsidence, in practice, areas where “rooms” have been created by mining between “pillars” left untouched by the mining are very prone to subsiding and causing environmental damage.

Despite the damage that room-and-pillar mining has done to farmland in east-central Illinois, one mining company, the Indiana-based Sunrise Coal company, wants to put even more Illinois farmland at risk of serious environmental damage. The proposed Sunrise Coal mine, which would be located in southwestern Vermilion County, would consist of a room-and-pillar mining operation under fertile farmland, as well as a 500-acre, above-ground coal processing plant and rail transfer point. Additionally, ponds would need to be constructed to store liquid slurry waste generated from the washing process used to remove impurities from the coal. In addition to the risk of farmland subsidence associated with room-and-pillar mining, there’s additional environmental threats associated with the proposed mine, such as coal dust ending up on crops and farmland from the processing plant, as well as the risk of the slurry ponds leaking and causing groundwater to become contaminated. The environmental risks associated with the proposed mine are so severe, Sue Smith and her husband, who own a 1,600-acre farm near the site of the proposed mine, have refused to sell the mineral rights to their land to Sunrise Coal.

As someone from a community, located about 13 miles or so to the northeast of the proposed mining site, that was built around coal mines in the early 20th century, I’m not completely against coal mining. However, there are significant environmental risks associated with the proposed room-and-pillar coal mining operation in southwestern Vermilion County that could cause long-term environmental damage that would negatively impact the area for decades, if not permanently.


BREAKING NEWS: Gogebic Taconite officially drops plans for Penokee Hills open-pit iron ore mine in Wisconsin

Gogebic Taconite, the mining company that bought weaker environmental regulations in Wisconsin as part of a bid to open a proposed open-pit iron ore mine in Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills region, will not open a mine at all in Wisconsin. That’s because GTac has officially dropped its plans to mine the Penokee Hills of the Wisconsin Northwoods after it became clear that the proposed mine was unfeasible for many reasons, two of them being that the mine would cause significant water pollution and would violate Native American treaties:

A company that was looking to open a huge iron mine in northern Wisconsin has officially withdrawn its plans, the state Department of Natural Resources says.

Gogebic Taconite was considering digging a 4½-mile-long mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior but announced last month it was closing its office in Hurley and future investment in the project wasn’t feasible.

DNR officials announced Friday the company has withdrawn its pre-application notice. They said the land around the site will reopen to the public.

The proposed Penokee Hills mine was a huge part of the Scott Walker/Wisconsin GOP agenda to win the Northwoods, and all the Northwoods are going to get from Walker and his Republican cohorts are weaker environmental regulations without a single job being created. This is, to put it mildly, a massive defeat for Republicans, both for Republicans at the state level in Wisconsin and for Walker’s likely presidential campaign, and a huge victory for progressives, pro-environment Democrats, Native Americans, and common sense.

Wisconsin Democrats should make repealing the 2013 mining deregulation bill part of a long list of priorities in the 2016 state legislative campaigns in Wisconsin.

How frac sand mining companies are buying influence at the local level in Wisconsin

In the small cities of Blair, Wisconsin and Independence, Wisconsin, which have fewer than 3,000 people combined and are both located in Trempealeau County in the west-central part of the state, frac sand mining companies are getting around a county-issued temporary moratorium on sand mining, which serves an even more dangerous industry of fracking for oil and natural gas, by asking the two cities, which have weaker regulations on sand mining that supercedes the county’s regulations within the borders of the respective cities, to annex mining sites.

In the case of Blair, a sand mining company is literally bribing local officials into annexing their mining site into the city:

Sometimes there’s cash upfront. One company offered $1.5 million to the City of Blair — population 1,379, plus two mines — if the city annexed another site.

Cities like Blair and Independence also offer more-permissive rules for mines than the county. “We let them work 24 hours, ‘round the clock, you see, where the county don’t,” says Blair’s mayor, Ardell Knutson. Rules around noise can also be less strict.

This is not simply frac sand mining companies getting creative. This is outright bribery of local elected officials to annex sand mining sites into municipalities that have weaker regulations than the county or town (as townships are known as in Wisconsin) regulations that the mining sites. This flagrant corruption is putting the health and quality of life of many Wisconsinites at risk, as sand mining sites that operate continuously make it difficult, if not impossible, for nearby residents to sleep in their own homes, and sand mining sites put workers and nearby residents at risk of contracting silicosis, a breathing disorder caused by inhaling silica dust.

I’d like to thank James Rowen of the Wisconsin progressive blog The Political Environment for bringing this to my attention.

Republican control of the U.S. Senate would be absolutely frightening

With the possibility of Republicans winning control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the first two years of George W. Bush’s second term in the White House looming over the November 4 elections, I want to remind everybody how frightening Republicans winning control of the U.S. Senate and retaining control of the U.S. House is.

Should Republicans win control of the Senate and retain control of the House, Republicans will probably pass a sweeping, Wisconsin-style far-right agenda, including legislation like:

  • Passing a nationwide right-to-work-for-less bill, allowing workers to benefit from collective bargaining agreements without paying union dues for collective bargaining (if not completely banning labor unions altogether)
  • Passing restrictions on abortion, contraception, and other women’s health procedures, up to and including attempting to propose a federal constitutional amendment banning abortion, contraception, and many other women’s health procedures
  • Repealing the federal Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states to implement voter suppression schemes
  • Repealing the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, allowing many forms of racial discrimination
  • Eliminating Pell grants and other programs that help people pay for college, making it harder for young people to go to college
  • Completely repealing the Affordable Care Act, taking away health insurance from millions of Americans who were recently uninsured
  • Eliminating regulations on banks and other financial institutions, making it easier for them to engage in risky practices that were the primary cause of the Great Recession
  • Allowing mining and drilling in National Parks and other federally-protected lands, destroying the value of our country’s natural wonders and hurting the tourism industry
  • Handing out tax cuts and other tax breaks to wealthy people, corporations, and other special interests, resulting in a bigger federal budget deficit and national debt (if not implementing a full-blown regressive taxation scheme by completely repealing the federal income tax and replacing it with a federal sales tax, shifting the tax burden to poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans)
  • Completely repealing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social safety net programs, leaving millions of seniors without a source of income and leaving millions of Americans without health insurance
  • Eliminating all federal campaign finance restrictions, making it even easier for wealthy people, corporations, and other special interests to buy federal elections and have an even bigger undue influence over federal politicians
  • Repealing the federal minimum wage, putting millions of working Americans into poverty and driving millions more into even deeper poverty
  • Eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and federal environmental regulations, allowing corporations to pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink
  • Repealing federal laws mandating equal pay for equal work, allowing employers to discriminate against women by paying men more than women

Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the right-wing legislation that a fully Republican-controlled Congress could pass. Don’t think for one second that people like Pat Toomey, Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and Susan Collins would oppose some or most of the far-right agenda just because they represent states/constituencies that usually vote for Democratic presidential candidates. The Ted Cruz-types in the Republican Party are going to demand that they pass as much far-right legislation as possible, and the so-called “moderates” in the GOP would go along with them every time and rubber stamp everything they do.

Should Republicans win control of the Senate, they will be hell bent on turning America into a third-world country. The only thing that would stop them from doing is President Barack Obama, who would likely veto nearly everything the Republicans pass. If you don’t want Republicans passing a destructive far-right agenda, go vote against the Republican bastards on November 4.