On January 15

On January 15, 2014, Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network and local citizens’ group Justice for Rocky Branch applauded an emergency action by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to halt illegal logging and land clearing at Peabody Energy’s proposed Rocky Branch coal mine in Saline County. The action to protect the forest came after local residents and the Sierra Club notified federal officials that the coal mining company was logging and clearing at the proposed Rocky Branch mine without a permit to conduct those activities.

At Rocky Branch, nearby residents became alarmed when logging equipment began appearing at the site in late December, even though no mining permit had been issued. After logging began, the Sierra Club and its allies brought this illegal activity to the attention of OSM and demanded immediate action to save the forest and protect nearby residents from water pollution from the coal mine.

Strip mines throughout the Illinois Basin are logged and cleared before mining companies can access the coal seams beneath the ground, but state and federal mining laws require companies to obtain a mining permit before logging can begin. This is supposed to ensure adequate protections are in place to prevent runoff from damaging nearby homes and polluting creeks, rivers and streams. The permit also requires that adequate studies be conducted to ensure that no threatened or endangered species will be impacted. Those steps were not taken in this case.

Peabody Energy’s proposed Rocky Branch mine would destroy productive farmland and leave a 1,000-acre pit, and destroy nearly 8 miles of streams and roughly 200 acres of forests that provide suitable habitat for the at-risk Indiana bat, wild turkeys, and other wildlife. 

Nearby residents and environmental groups have already raised numerous concerns about the proposed mine, including impacts to rivers and streams, disturbances and damage from blasting, traffic and safety impacts from road closures, airborne dust and the destruction of farmland and wildlife habitat. In addition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service previously recommended that IDNR delay the permit to allow for a survey of the forest for the federally endangered Indiana bat. For the time being, today’s decision ensures that the forests—and the wildlife habitat and clean water protection they provide—will remain standing. 

To view the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ notice of violation and cessation order click here