State getting $1B for coal mine clean up

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois stands to receive $1 billion in federal funding over the next 15 years to remediate hundreds of acres of distressed land used for coal mining prior to 1977, thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress last fall.

Abandoned mine lands can mean a lot of different things, Amanda Pankau, energy campaign coordinator with the Prairie Rivers Network, told The Center Square.

“There are portals into old underground mines that are super dangerous and need to be covered up and secured. There are high walls – which are like steep cliffs – where they stopped surface mining long ago,” she said. “Those are dangerous.”

Leftover mine waste – called gob and slurry – is impacting local waterways and community water supplies, not just on the abandoned sites themselves, but also downstream, Pankau said.

“They are leaching polluting chemicals into our water supplies,” she said.

When you dig coal, other materials come with it, Pankau added. Pyrite (known as fools’ gold) and sulfide minerals are two common ones.

“When these substances are brought to the surface and exposed to oxygen, they create acid that gets in our water,” Pankau said. “It’s called acid mine drainage.”

Coal mining has been an important industry in Illinois since 1810. Today, Illinois is No. 4 or 5 on the list of the top coal producing states in the country. Over the years, there have been more than 7,000 coal mines located across 52 of Illinois’ 102 counties. The Illinois State Geological Survey reports coal mining has occurred in 76 of Illinois’ 102 counties. 

Federal law passed in 1977 – the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act – requires mine operators to adhere to environmental regulations and post bonds so that money is reserved to undo the damage that coal extraction causes.

A tax on coal raised $9.6 million last year for Illinois’ Abandoned Mine Land Program, which is operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Over the years, IDNR has used the tax funding to complete 2,300 remediation projects at 670 former mining sites.

Prior to 1977, however, funds were not set aside for clean up and no one was deemed responsible for mines that were closed.

IDNR has identified 590 former coal mine sites that have unfunded clean up projects. This year, $75 million – the first installment of the new federal funding – will be directed at those unfunded sites.

“IDNR will be hiring new folks for more jobs on the ground,” Pankau said. “We have to identify what the problems are with surveying and experts. We need to do earth moving work to clean up the problems. We are going to see a lot of different types of jobs created.”

Projects proposed for Williamson, Saline, La Salle, Vermillion and Peoria counties will be among the first to be reviewed for the new funding, Pankau said.

Another benefit of the new funding will be the newly reclaimed land that people and communities and businesses can use for a lot of different uses, including farming, building projects and recreation.

“That is an exciting part of this – getting land back to communities and landowners for new projects that they could not do before,” Pankau said.

Many older abandoned mines are located on private lands and have yet to be identified and designated for reclamation, Pankau said. She encourages people who know about old mines and potential cleanup sites to contact IDNR to have the sites identified and evaluated.

Read More: State getting $1B for coal mine clean up

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Get more stuff like this
in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.