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Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 12:01 am

Mine safety regulator took campaign cash from coal magnate

Chris Cline, billinaire owner of Foresight Energy, contributes liberally to Illinois politicians.
PHOTO COURTESY HAVAGUT

 

A political committee controlled by one of the state’s top mining regulators has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a major coal mine owner.

Anthony “Tony” Mayville, supervisor of mine safety enforcement for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee in southern Illinois. The committee has accepted at least $7,750 from companies owned by Chris Cline, a billionaire coal magnate with mines in Illinois and several other states. Many of the contributions were made while Cline’s companies were seeking coal mining permits from the Department of Natural Resources. The contributions may have been illegal under a state law regarding official misconduct.

Between 2007 and 2011, Chris Cline’s Hillsboro Energy LLC donated $3,250 to the Washington County Democratic Central Committee. During that time, Cline’s company was seeking permission from DNR to construct the Deer Run Mine near Hillsboro. The mine was approved in 2009, although Mayville’s job as a mine safety regulator doesn’t directly affect the agency’s decisions on approving mining permits.

Another Cline company, Macoupin Energy LLC, donated a total of $1,500 to the Washington County committee in 2009 and 2010. Cline’s Foresight Energy Services donated $1,000 in September 2012 and $2,000 in September 2013 to the Washington County committee.

In May 2011, Mayville left DNR to become Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Mayville returned to DNR in August 2012.

Mayville is running for state representative in the 115th District in southern Illinois. A $2,000 check made out to the county committee from Cline’s Foresight Energy Services was deposited in Mayville’s own campaign fund in March 2013. Mayville transferred the money to the county committee in January 2014.

In November 2013, a 36-year-old coal miner named Dallas Travelstead died at Cline’s Sugar Camp coal mine near Macedonia, Ill., while shoveling coal. A large chunk of rock and coal fell on top of him and pinned him. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s investigation of that death continues.

Mayville and the Washington County Democratic Central Committee have each accepted donations from other coal interests in the past. In 2006, the Washington County committee accepted a $500 donation from Peabody Investments Corp, which is an arm of coal mining company Peabody Energy. Mayville was not chairman of the committee at the time. Mayville’s own committee accepted a $1,000 donation in 1995 from Zeigler Coal Holding, which is now defunct.

Andy Boner, Mayville’s campaign manager in his bid for state representative, said he could not discuss the situation because of ongoing legal matters. Gov. Pat Quinn and Foresight Energy could not be reached for comment.

Jim Tenuto, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, says a state law on official misconduct may make the contributions a criminal act, though that’s up to a state’s attorney or the attorney general to decide. Under the state law, if Mayville solicited the contributions, it would be a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Chris McCloud, spokesman for DNR, said the contributions to the committee controlled by Mayville came to light when Mayville sought permission from DNR director Marc Miller to run for elected office.

“The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has zero tolerance for misconduct,” McCloud said. “After learning that Mr. Mayville may have violated agency policy, we immediately launched an investigation.”

McCloud says Mayville is currently on an unpaid leave of absence, and the matter has been referred to the Office of the Executive Inspector General.

But Mayville isn’t the only public official to take money from Chris Cline. The wealthy coal baron has a history of donating to public figures who have the power to approve or deny his projects. Three companies Cline controls in Illinois – Foresight Energy, Macoupin Energy and Hillsboro Energy – have contributed a combined total of more than $1.5 million to Illinois politicians between 2006 and the present day. Recipients of Cline’s donations include Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Illinois Supreme Court justice Mary Jane Theis, numerous Republican and Democratic senators and representatives, several political party committees, and even a judge in Hillsboro, where Cline’s Deer Run mine is located. Cline may also control other Illinois companies which make campaign contributions.

Federal campaign disclosure records show Cline’s Foresight Energy in 2012 also donated $10,000 to the Illinois Democratic Party.

Will Reynolds, a Springfield environmental activist and writer who discovered the campaign contributions to Mayville, says the contributions are significant because DNR is preparing to regulate high-volume hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of extracting oil and natural gas. It involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals underground to fracture shale rock formations, and environmentalists claim it poisons groundwater supplies and increases earthquake activity, among other issues.

“If we can’t trust DNR not to be too close to industry, then it calls into question how effectively they will regulate fracking,” he said.

Reynolds says the contributions may help explain why many within the environmental movement feel DNR mostly ignores them.

“People feel like they are not being heard, and that DNR only listens to industry,” Reynolds said. “This gives us an idea of why that is.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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