Love Letters and Hate Mail June 21, 2012 Edition
This week, June 19 through June 22, Illinois grade-school teachers will gather at the Rend Lake Resort near Mount Vernon for the fifteenth-annual Coal Education Conference sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Each year, IDCEO spends up to $70,000 for this all-expense-paid teachers' retreat. While our children's teachers deserve to be recognized for their dedication and hard work, this particular retreat is nothing more than a corporate ploy to advance the coal industry's clean-coal message through grade-school lesson plans at taxpayer expense.
The From the Coal Mines to the Power Lines classroom curriculum was developed through a partnership with corporate coal interests such as Knight Hawk Mining, Southern Illinois Power Co-op, and the Illinois Clean Coal Institute, with substantial help from state taxes Illinois citizens pay in utility bills. This educational charade contains scores of lessons carefully crafted by the coal industry, advertising coal as the fuel of the future, while cleverly avoiding any serious discussion of the documented economic, health, and environmental effects related to the use of coal.
The curriculum, designed to create a bias toward coal and away from sustainable, clean-energy options, teaches our children to doubt that the combustion of fossil fuels has led to a warming climate, despite the fact that ninety-seven percent of climate experts agree that humans burning fossil fuels is the cause of global warming. It teaches that environmental regulations will significantly raise the cost of producing electricity, [though] when the full costs of coal are reflected in the market price, the cost of using coal over wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro is considerably higher.
The curriculum has the children creating advertisements for an industry that is responsible for nearly one-third of the carbon-dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, for devastating health effects caused by air pollution, and water pollution caused during every phase of coal's life cycle.
The curriculum fails to teach our children that coal-fired power plants are the number-one source of man-made pollutants responsible for over one-thousand heart attacks, hundreds of premature deaths, and thousands of asthma attacks each year in Illinois. Asthma happens to be the number-one illness that causes kids to miss school.
The curriculum fails to teach our children that mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants is so severe that Illinois has adopted a fish-consumption advisory that recommends that children and women of childbearing age limit their consumption of wild caught fish because of the risk of developmental problems in children.
The curriculum fails to teach our children about the impacts to Illinois surface waters from coal mining and coal-combustion waste. In the last three years, thirty-four coal mines (forty-seven percent) in Illinois have been out of compliance with their permit for six months or more and twenty-one coal mines (twenty-nine percent) have been out of compliance with their permit for twelve months or more. At twenty-four coal-combustion waste sites in Illinois, twenty-two of them have caused groundwater pollution.
Children are the population that is most vulnerable to the effects of coal pollution, now and into the future. Our children deserve to learn all the facts so they can be prepared [to make] informed decisions about their future energy choices. If our tax dollars are going to teach young people about coal, then let's tell them the whole truth, not a one-sided, biased, and self-serving story contrived for the benefit of Illinois’s economic interests and the coal industry.
Conservation Field Representative, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter
Heartland Coalfield Alliance