Sierra Club Illinois and Prairie Rivers Network announced they are appealing the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's decision to grant a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to Williamson Energy LLC, the owner of the Pond Creek coal mine in Franklin County.
The groups say the NPDES permit, which was granted by the IEPA on April 15, does not remedy major flaws in the 2019 draft permit, does not protect the environment, and does not adhere to Illinois or federal law.
In the appeal, Sierra Club Illinois and Prairie Rivers Network, who are represented by Albert Ettinger and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, ask the Illinois Pollution Control Board to order the IEPA to reconsider the permit in order to establish conditions necessary to protect the Big Muddy River and other Illinois waters.
The IEPA granted this new NPDES permit to Williamson Energy LLC, a subsidiary of companies that emerged from the Murray Energy bankruptcy, despite the company’s long history of permit violations.
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In the newly granted permit, the IEPA declined to even consider placing a proper limit on chloride releases from the Pond Creek coal mine, despite the harmful impact excess chloride can have on wildlife in the river and allows level of iron, sulfate and other pollutants that will harm the environment and potentially public health.
Amanda Pankau, energy campaign coordinator with Prairie Rivers Network, said despite making some improvements to the original draft permit, the NPDES permit issued by the IEPA still falls short of the critical protection needed for the Big Muddy River and its tributaries.
The contaminants allowed in this permit are harmful to aquatic life, and overall the permit fails to adequately mitigate the impacts this dirty mine water will have on local waters, wildlife, and communities. The IEPA must at the very least strengthen the permit’s conditions,” Pankau said.
The permit decision also fails to consider the impact to the community at large, despite requirements in Illinois state law that these potential impacts be considered.
Local community members and environmental advocates explicitly brought these concerns to the IEPA’s attention as early as 2019 by submitting hundreds of comments on the draft permit and raising concerns during a public hearing.
Advocates have also highlighted Williamson Energy LLC’s repeated inability to adhere to its relatively lax current permit. Since it began operation in 2005, the company is responsible for 78 water quality discharge violations at Pond Creek Mine alone.
“Coal mining is a dirty, dangerous, and increasingly outdated practice. For a century, Illinois has sacrificed water quality, farmland, and communities to allow coal mining, but it's time to turn to a better future,” Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin said. “We’re acting today to protect these communities now and for future generations.”