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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 03:46 am

Coal miners find common ground with anti-coal author

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Jeff Biggers

Asked if he was a proponent of coal as he waited for a lecture featuring an anti-coal author to begin, Mark Bloom, sporting an International Coal Group jacket and sitting next to his Williamsville mine’s safety inspector, responded, “Isn’t everybody?”

Well, no, not exactly. Jeff Biggers, whose lecture the coal miners were attending, wrote Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The secret legacy of coal in the heartland, which details coal companies’ history of abuse to coal miners and the environment. As Biggers spoke at the local Sierra Club-sponsored lecture, he also uplifted the coal miner as the former lifeblood of southern Illinois towns. At the same time, he said that the industry has been on the decline for decades and that even if new “clean” coal projects go through, the coal will eventually run out. As the coal runs out, so too will coal mining jobs and the temporary prosperity they bring, Biggers says.

It’s a point upon which Bloom, a proud coal miner in the Williamsville area for 28 years, could at least partially agree. He said he was glad his son, who had worked in a mine for about four years, was now a plumber. “I do agree with him. There is a life to mining. When I got into it 30 or 20-some years ago, I looked at it as a bridge to get us into that next thing,” Bloom says, listing hydrogen as one of the technologies he thought would have made a mark. “I really thought we’d be closer to an answer than what we are right now.” He adds that he thinks his mine, Viper Mine, could produce coal for at least 20 more years and that it should continue to be mined until the next technology comes along.

Bloom says he doesn’t think wind or solar are the complete answer to the country’s energy needs but admits coal has never been a steady bet. “He’s exactly right, it’s up and down. It’s the lowest cost producers that make it go.” Bloom says that’s just a fact of life in a capitalist country. “There are winners and losers. If coal runs out here, you have to move.”

Biggers references the move to mechanized coal mining and to low-sulfur coal in Appalachia as points of abandonment by coal companies of communities in southern Illinois, where Biggers’ family hails.

“Coal miners built Chicago. Coal miners are the ones who generated the industrial revolution. They built Springfield,” Biggers says. “And you’re going to be abandoned. … We want to make sure that there is a sustainable future and that’s the key word. … What’s sustainable? What’s going to sustain coal miners, but more importantly your community, not just you, your community, your family, your future?” Biggers says. “What I’m worried about is that we’re going to be abandoned again.”

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

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