MURPHYSBORO - On the same day that American Coal Company laid off nearly 300 area coal miners, the state of coal in Southern Illinois was the topic of discussion at a forum in downtown Murphysboro Monday.
The forum, led by 12th District Congressman Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), 15th District Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), state Sens. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) and Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) was intended to give the four legislators a chance to hear from Southern Illinois coal producers, researchers, and stakeholders, about their concerns and hopes regarding the state of coal in the region.
Shimkus described some of the policies recently put into effect at the federal level, including fly ash (ash produced in small, dark flecks, typically carried into the air by a furnace), which is now considered to be a recyclable material and is not defined as toxic.
This legislation helped to ensure that there is a use for the remaining material after coal combustion is done.
The Stream Protection Rule was overturned in the new administration. Shimkus praised this move as there are already provisions and regulations in place to protect waterways from pollution.
"We don't have to duplicate rules and regulations," he said. "The frustration in the industry, and with people who want to create jobs, is how many rules and regulations on the same issue do you have to comply with?"
The forum's other two panels gave legislators a chance to hear from coal producers, researchers, and stakeholders. Many spoke on the negative effect of the mountain of regulations that they face.
Jim Smith of Knight Hawk Coal, for example, brought up the effect of regulations.
"We never get any relief from the Department of Labor or any of the other federal agencies," he said. "There's always just more, more, more (regulations). It's just more and more cost to us and the taxpayers."
While Smith was not opposed to adding more personal days or other matters, he pointed out that it would just add cost to the businesses.
"Anytime there's more forced regulation at the state level, it's hampering Illinois."
This was also on the mind of many stakeholders in the coal industry, especially those who had to close down plants.
Dan Thompson, the soon-retiring CEO of Dynegy said, "I was the guy who shut down Vermillion. I was the guy who shut down Wood River. I'm the guy who shut down one unit in Baldwin and one unit in Newton…that is something I do not take lightly.
"When you look at somebody and tell them they don't have a job anymore, it hits you right in the face."
Thompson's comments were especially relevant after the announcement made by American Coal later on Monday. American Coal is a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corporation, which was represented by Roger Dennison at the forum on Monday. The closure was not addressed by Dennison at the forum.
Though Shimkus had to leave early, the three remaining legislators seemed personally affected by what the members of the coal industry had to say.
When asked about the future of coal, Bost said that while jobs may not peak in the industry, production can.
"We have different technology right now. What used to take three miners to pull out of the ground, now takes one," he said.
While all were optimistic, promising to take what they had learned back to the statehouse and Washington, a common belief was made clear by Schimpf.
"Salvation is not in Springfield, it's right here," he said.