EPA Holds Hearing on Littleton Mine

Jan 14, 2013

The Illinois EPA is deciding whether to issue a water pollution permit for a proposed coal mine near Littleton.  It has drawn up a “draft permit” as in its review of the permit application up to this point, it believes the proposed mine meets all requirements.

The meeting at the Schuyler county courthouse in Rushville was held to let the public comment on that “draft permit.”

Environmentalists oppose the mine and are clashing with the EPA on at least one key issue.  Who owns the mine.

The Illinois EPA tried to be clear from the start.  The agency’s legal counsel Stephanie Diers spelled out the EPA’s position at the beginning of the hearing.

EPA Panel at Littleton Coal Mining Hearing.

“I just want to remind everybody that we are here tonight to talk about the Littleton mine hearing with Grindstone Management. I understand that there have been some comments made in this record concerning Industry Mine and North Canton mine,” Diers said. “Industry and North Canton are currently in house, we’re working with those permits going through the responsiveness summary and everything in those cases. So we’re not here tonight to take comments, the comment period is closed on those cases."

Diers’ point was that the mine at Industry is owned by Springfield Coal while the proposed Littleton mine is owned by Grindstone Management.  In the EPA’s thinking those are two separate entities.

Environmental groups don’t see it that way. They say the companies are owned by the same people, and point out that the Industry mine violated its water pollution permit hundreds of times.

Though because the companies are considered two separate “applicants” by the Illinois EPA, the agency says the problems at Industry have no bearing on whether to issue a water pollution permit for the Littleton mine.

Some who spoke at the hearing did not care for the distinction. That included Daniel Moorehouse, the president of the La Moines River Ecosystem Partnership.

The disagreement becomes evident in an exchange he had with EPA Hearing officer Dean Studer.

The Industry Mine owned by Springfield Coal
Credit Marianne Morgan/InIllinoisWater.org

Moorehouse, “There’s been over 600 violations on the industry mine that we know of.
Do you take that into account? You know when I go up in front of a judge and have traffic violations, I say how many misdemeanors? How many felonies? They look at you, when the same people…."

Studer, “ I’m going interrupt you at this point."

Moorehouse “Ok.”

Studer,“Stephanie made a statement at the beginning about this issue. And the issue is the law in Illinois requires us to consider the applicant, these are separate applicants, so what happens there is not relevant  in this proceeding."

Moorehouse, “Even though Grindstone is the same company that’s mining Industry….”

Studer, “It is not relevant in this proceeding.”

When Brian Perbix spoke he also linked the Industry site with the Littleton application though he came prepared to deal with the E-P-A’s restrictions. Perbix is a grassroots organizer with the Prairie Rivers Network.

“So to start out, of primary concern of course is the abysmal NPDES compliance record at the Industry coal mine, which we are aware is owned by the Springfield coal company,” Perbix said.  

He nodded at the EPA hearing officer before continuing.

“And we will be submitting written comments to the effect that the owners of Grindstone Management are also the owners of the Springfield coal company.”

With that written documentation submitted, Perbix was allowed to continue.

He called attention to the huge number of violations at the Industry mine, saying his group  believes the same type of pollution would occur at Littleton.

He said the EPA should not grant any permit for the Littleton mine until Springfield Coal makes

Waterway at Industry Mine site, owned by Springfield Coal.
Credit Marianne Morgan/InIllinoisWater.org

substantial changes to its Industry site.

Another issue raised at the meeting was that coal from the Littleton mine would be transported to the Industry mine to be processed.  That coal would be crushed and washed, to remove sulfur before it’s burned.

The washing water would then be discharged at the Industry site.

But not everyone at the hearing opposed the mine. Although Schuyler County Engineer Dave Schneider did ask questions about certain provisions in the permit, he made it clear he supported the proposed mine.

“It was presented the future is other alternative energy,” Schneider said, “but currently the reason why, primarily, solar and wind can’t be considered a baseline energy source is obviously it doesn’t happen all the time and we don’t have storage capacity. There’s no way to store it with batteries. So maybe the future will change but I would like to point out the fact that coal is something that can be burned at a consistent rate that we can use at all times when we need it.”

The EPA has not set a date for when it will issue a decision on the permit application. If it finds that Springfield Coal and Grindstone Management are in fact the same applicant, the violations at Industry will be taken into account in its decision.

The Illinois Pollution Control Board has not yet decided on penalties for Springfield Coal for its numerous violations at Industry, and in fact the company is challenging the findings.

The owners of Springfield Coal and Grindstone Management are also trying to develop a new coal mine in Canton, Illinois. They have applied for a water pollution permit there as well.