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Friday, April 4, 2014

Coal is destroying southern Illinois

My name is Ruby Roknic, I am a freshmen at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) majoring in engineering. 
This weekend I went on a tour of the Coalfields of Southern Illinois and heard heart breaking stories from farm Illinois residents about how their lives and dream homes have been ruined by the coal industry.
Most people do not know how destructive the coal process is, from mining to disposing of the toxic waste, or coal ash.  Following my weekend with the Heartland Coalfield Tour with concerned students, local citizens, college professors, activists, and engineers of from ages 19 to 80 it has become clear to me that getting off of coal is a very urgent issue.
There are three mining techniques for coal mining: long wall mining, room and pillar mining, and strip mining.  Room and pillar mining is when underground coal is mined out but pillars are left to support the ground above it.  Long wall mining takes out whole underground layer of coal without leaving pillars in for support.  This causes sedation of the land and renders the land un-farmable.  What is considered the worst for the land is strip mining, also known as mountain-top removal, which consists of blasting away the surface to access coal.
Burning coal releases greenhouse gases and other air pollutants and produces toxic coal ash.  The air pollution from coal leads to respiratory health problems like asthma for nearby residents.  Since the Clean Air Act of 1990 which regulates sulfur emissions, coal companies have been advocating for a false solution that they call “clean” coal.  Also known as carbon capture and sequestration, this process uses scrubbers to sequester the sulfur from the coal rocks, but fails to regulate any other harmful chemicals that are also present.  The result of that sequestering process in a toxic liquid that coal ash is added to which is called slurry.
This slurry waste is dumped into onsite impoundments that are not well regulated.  The toxic chemicals from the coal waste seeps into the ground contaminating ground and reservoir water for the surrounding town and downstream neighbors. 
Southern Illinois locals have noticed abnormally high rates of diseases such and breast and brain cancers.  Most of this coal is being mined and disposed of in small towns in rural areas.  In order for locals to claim their health problems have been caused by local mining processes, there must be a health study conducted.  According to a Coulterville local they have not been able to get a health study done by public health department because their town does not have a big enough population.
Mining companies buy mining rights from farmers and land owners in the Heartland without telling them about the negative consequences that come along with the coal process.  Living next to large machines that contribute to noise and light pollution 24 hours a day does not sound pleasant to most folks.  Coal companies do not back down regardless of their destructive ways.  As I listened to one farmer explain what long wall mining was, his eyes were quivering with hopelessness and he shrugged his shoulders as if he was giving up. 
No one should feel hopeless.  Everyone should be able to fight for their own home.  We need to stop coal and invest in clean, renewable energy, not just for our tomorrow but for today.  SIUC needs to be a leader in getting southern Illinois off coal.  The first step in doing that would to be shutting down the coal plant that is on campus, which students walk past every day to get to class.  Energy is not worth destroying farms, homes, and putting my fellow Illinois neighbors at risk.

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