Environment

Illinois Keeps Discredited Coal Education in Schools

The energy industry pushes the virtues of coal onto kids with the same religious fervor of organizations that tout creationism.

Photo Credit: Amanda Sutcliffe / Shutterstock

While coal mining families in West Virginia and across the country mourned the fourth anniversary of the tragic Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster last week, hailed by US Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II as "a conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws," the Illinois state legislature rolled out the red carpet for Big Coal and voted to keep a notorious "coal education program" for schools that has been widely denounced by former coal miners and educators as inaccurate industry propaganda.

It's really hard not to get jaded about the state of corrupt coal politics in Illinois.

Sadly enough, last fall former coal miners and citizens groups from southern Illinois, working with national education organizations, waged a successful campaign to take down the state's cringe-worthy "kids coal" website -- but environmental groups in Chicago caught up in the twisted state Democratic politics didn't even bother to contact them.

Last week's episode in the "coal education" fiasco, called out five years ago for unleashing dime-bag coal pushers into our classrooms, places Illinois into the shameless ranks of last decade's Kansas board of education decision to teach creationism.

Here are some Orwellian coal nuggets for the Prairie State's youngest minds:

While the uncritical media reported that Illinois House members "bemoan the decline of the Illinois coal industry," it's a fact that Illinois is in the throes of an unprecedented and unmatched coal mining rush in the nation. Do the frickin' math: In 2010, Illinois coal mined 33 million tons; in 2013, Illinois coal mined 52 million tons. Last summer, Gov. Quinn celebrated a 5-fold increase in coal exports.

While uninformed House members beat their chests and claimed, "the Elkhart mine is clean -- sulfur is not emitted in any measurable amount," whatever that odd comment means, the truth is : 1) black lung disease for coal miners is increasing, 2) Illinois has one of the most disastrous coal slurry enforcement programs in the nation, 3) Illinois ranks as the worst coal ash contamination offenders, 4) strip mining operations have left communities in ruin, destroyed cherished forests, and covered residents in toxic coal dust, 5) untold numbers of abandoned mines continue to discharge toxins, and 6) union-busted coal miners have had to fight for health benefits, 7) prime farmland is being lost to longwall mining, and 8) Peabody Energy even had to shut down a southern Illinois coal mine for a fatal accident and violations.

Check your facts: Coal is dirty, deadly and costly.

While Democrats continue to pander to Big Coal contributors and hail the chimera of "clean coal," even Peabody Energy admitted last fall that carbon capture and storage "clean coal" is "simply not commercially available."

While House members waxed nostalgia about the coal industry, they never teach our kids the historical fact of African-American slavery in the mines, the century of mine disasters and death, or the reality that some of our most historic communities have been strip mined and destroyed.

And here's the best lesson of all, kids: According to a state audit, Illinois has defiantly remained in violation of the law for failing to hire the required number of mine inspectors.

Oh well, at least the summer break is not too far away.

Perhaps instead of the state bankrolling a taxpayer slush fund for a Big Coal education conference in June, teachers might want to contact citizens groups in southern Illinois -- or even visit the extraordinary movement by Rocky Branch farmers and residents to stop a devastating strip mine expansion in Saline County.

Jeff Biggers is the American Book Award-winning author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (Nation/Basic Books), among other books. Visit his website: www.jeffbiggers.com
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