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A black cross was placed near the Lake of Egypt power plant by a group called The Black Cross Alliance. The group placed several black crosses at coal related sites across Southern Illinois Monday. PROVIDED

Black crosses that appeared Monday in several locations throughout Southern Illinois were the work of an environmental group in protest of the mining and burning of coal for energy.

Wishing to remain anonymous, the group declined an interview with The Southern Illinoisan, but in an e-mail statement indicated "The Black Cross Alliance" is a group of concerned citizens in coal mining communities of the region, who serve as a witness to the human costs of coal and encourage a transition into a sustainable economy based on clean energy production and manufacturing.

"Many of our members are reticent about speaking out publicly on this issue because of the very real possibility of retaliation," the statement read.

The group placed crosses Monday in at least two local sites - near the Lake of Egypt power plant and outside Southern Illinois University Carbondale Coal Research Center. Crosses went up in Southern Illinois wherever there are coal-fired power plants, mine, coal ash piles or slurry ponds.

The Black Cross Alliance began two years ago from discussions among an informal group of miners, their families and friends. Earlier this year the discussions began to include local grassroots environmentalists, which led to a series of more formal discussions over the summer and the campaign of placing black crosses.

The alliance says the campaign was launched to raise awareness of the death toll and the environmental and economic ruin caused by coal mining and coal-burning power plants.

John Mead, director of SIUC Coal Research Center, said he was not aware of a cross placed at the center on campus or at the Coal Development Park in Carterville.

SIPC President Scott Ramsey acknowledged seeing a black cross in the vicinity of the plant, but declined to comment on statements made by the alliance.

In its statement, the alliance claims "while the rest of the nation - and the world - launches into the exploding new global market of clean energy development and green jobs, the Black Cross Alliance asks why the coalfield regions in the country have been left out of the renewable energy movement and slated for a new generation of increased local coal production."

The group called Illinois the birthplace of the coal industry and "ground zero in the Obama administration's plan to dangerously experiment with carbon capture and storage technologies for coal-fired plants," indicating the U.S. energy department's plans to move forward with the FutureGen 2.0 project in Meredosia.

The alliance claims coal is not clean or cheap and it is deadly. They say the death toll from coal mining and coal-burning plants has become a national disaster.

Southern Illinois wasn't the only place coal was being protested, however.

In Washington, D.C., about 100 people were arrested outside the White House while protesting against mountaintop removal mining.

The protesters were arrested Monday after refusing orders from U.S. Park Police to leave the sidewalk outside the White House. They staged a rally at nearby Freedom Plaza earlier in the day.

The crowd of mostly youthful ralliers carried signs like "Blowing Up Mountains for Coal Poisons People" and "Mountain ecosystems won't grow back." Some carried small white crosses adorned with messages such as "water pollution" and "corporate greed."

In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, often covering intermittent streams.

- The Associated Press contributed information to this article

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