Tag: pollution

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.

Advertisements

Monticello, Illinois officials caught pumping raw sewage into city streets

There has been at least one documented instance of officials in the city of Monticello, Illinois, which has a population of slightly over 5,000 people and is located in Piatt County in the central part of the state, pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into city streets, where it flows through storm drains and into the Sangamon River. Now, the Office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is suing the city over it:

The city (of Monticello, Illinois) is accused of pumping raw sewage into its streets. Now the state is taking the city to court. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is suing the city of Monticello. Court documents state the city pumped almost a million gallons of raw sewage into the Sangamon River.

One city council member says it’s been happening for years. Court documents state it all started with a thunderstorm. On July 12, 2014, Monticello got three inches of rain and the city didn’t have a place to put all of the water.

Pictures residents took that day show water being pumped from the sewer into the streets. Normally, rainfall is supposed to flow into the storm drains, which eventually goes into the Sangamon River. The drains can’t handle a lot of rain and it gets diverted into the sewer lines, but when that happens the sewer could overflow.

Guess what Monticello, Illinois is spending its money on instead of investing in a new water treatment plant to replace the nearly 80-year-old water treatment facility…:

“Until now, nobody’s really paid attention,” said Alderman Joe Brown. “We’ve been putting money towards athletic fields instead of our sewer lines. So hopefully they’ll take it serious. Hopefully we’ll re-allocate the money so that we can fix our infrastructure.”

(emphasis mine)

The city of Monticello, Illinois clearly has serious problems with its sewage system, yet the city is spending money on athletic facilities instead of new sewage lines or a new water treatment plant. It’s clear to me that officials in Monticello clearly have the wrong priorities.

Sadly, what is going on in Monticello is only a microcosm of what is going on in the entire country. While stadiums, arenas, and other athletic facilities get millions of dollars in taxpayer money, our nation’s roads, rail lines, water lines, sewage systems, and other forms of infrastructure are falling apart.

Wisconsin Republicans propose the dreaded Mary Burke Tax

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin state government has floated yet another ridiculously bad idea…a $25 fee on new bicycles, or, as I like to call it, the Mary Burke Tax. Burke is a former Trek Bicycles executive who ran a horrible campaign for Governor of Wisconsin in 2014, losing to Republican incumbent Scott Walker. This proposal, along with the repeal of the Wisconsin Complete Streets law, which requires bicycle and pedestrian uses to be factored into transportation projects in Wisconsin, is part of a political war on cycling in Wisconsin.

More than anything else, this is clearly the Republicans’ way of getting political payback at Burke for running against Walker. After all, the Republicans usually don’t support anything that could even be remotely interpreted as raising taxes….except, of course, if the new tax or tax increase primarily affects Democrats, liberals, progressives, environmentally-conscious people, women, minorities, businesses they don’t like, and/or the poor.

While I’ve not seen Republicans in Wisconsin use this talking point, at least one Republican in the State of Washington tried to claim that, because people breathe out carbon dioxide, bicyclists cause more pollution than people using other forms of transportation, while trying to defend a proposed bicycle tax in Washington state. That’s a false argument, since it doesn’t factor in the fact that plants breathe in carbon dioxide as part of the carbon cycle.

While I’ve not been on a bicycle since I was five or six years old, and I’m too clumsy to ride a bicycle because I have Asperger’s syndrome, waging a political war on cycling will lead to more pollution and more traffic crashes involving bicyclists, something that Wisconsin, Washington state, and the rest of this country simply can’t afford. Should state governments need to fill transportation budget deficits, I recommend enacting taxes on automobiles that get very poor gas mileage and taxes on gasoline-powered automobiles (i.e., automobiles that are not electric or hybrid) worth more than $50,000, if a particular state doesn’t already collect such taxes.

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.

Conflict of interest: Bruce Rauner appointee to Illinois Department of Natural Resources took campaign cash from coal companies

Republican Illinois State Representative Wayne Rosenthal of Morrisonville has been appointed by fellow Republican and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which, in addition to maintaining state parks and recreation areas and regulating hunting and fishing, is responsible for regulating coal mining and other forms of mining in Illinois.

This is a major conflict of interest in the Rauner Administration, since, as a candidate for state representative, Rosenthal has taken $13,000 in campaign donations from Foresight Energy and Hillsboro Energy, two coal mining companies owned by billionaire mining magnate Chris Cline:

Nearly two years ago, the Wisconsin newspaper Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that one of Cline’s coal mining companies here in Illinois, Macoupin Energy, was violating state environmental regulations designed to prevent groundwater from becoming contaminated by refusing to adequately clean up groundwater contamination at the Shay 1 mine, which is located in Macoupin County either in or near Carlinville:

An Illinois coal mine owned by the same investor who is trying to develop an iron ore mine in Wisconsin has come under fire by Illinois’ pollution control agency for failing to adequately address long-standing groundwater problems.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency formally notified Macoupin Energy in December that it believes the company is dragging its feet with the cleanup at the Shay 1 mine in Carlinville, Ill., according to government documents.

The agency said it plans to refer the case to the Illinois attorney general.

Macoupin is one of four mines owned in Illinois by billionaire Christopher Cline, who is proposing to build a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties if the Wisconsin Legislature rewrites mining laws to the company’s satisfaction.

To use a Sesame Street analogy, putting Wayne Rosenthal, who is a shill for coal barons, in charge of regulating the mining industry here in Illinois is like putting Cookie Monster in charge of protecting cookies. For Governor Rauner to appoint someone like Rosenthal to IDNR is a flagrant conflict of interest, and, while I’m not completely opposed to mining for coal and other minerals by any stretch of the imagination, I’m very afraid that Rosenthal’s IDNR will allow mining companies to get away with polluting Illinois groundwater and waterways.

Scott Walker: Clean water for Israel, polluted water for America

Wisconsin Governor and likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination Scott Walker’s hypocrisy has gone international, as Walker will likely visit Israel sometime within the next couple of years to promote clean water technology in Israel and…of course…his presidential ambitions:

Gov. Scott Walker said he might visit Israel to promote Milwaukee’s clean water technology, a trip that would coincide with his likely run for president.

Walker is one of several governors mulling over a presidential run who could be looking to burnish their foreign policy credentials. Walker said if he visits Israel, it would be to promote Wisconsin. He said there are only a handful of clean water technology hubs in the world, and that Milwaukee and Israel are among them.

While Scott Walker wants to promote clean water technology in Israel and waste Wisconsinites’ taxpayer money on an international trip in order to do so, he wants to pollute Lake Superior and other bodies of water in Northern Wisconsin by allowing Gogebic Taconite (GTac), which Walker illegally solicited $700,000 from in order to pay a right-wing political front group so that they could campaign for him and his Republican cronies, to build an open-pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin. The mine, if opened, would create very few jobs and pollute water used for drinking, bathing, recreation, and other purposes for many Americans. Furthermore, Walker wants to run for president so that he can eliminate the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to allow large corporations to pollute the drinking water of every single American person. To put all of that another way, Walker supports clean water for Israel, but he wants to pollute water here in America.

America does not need another “pro-Israel” president of the Scott Walker-Hillary Clinton mindset of shilling for Israel and screwing America. We need Bernie Sanders to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, because he’ll be a “pro-America” president by putting the American people first.

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.