Fossil Fuels

Extracting and burning fossil fuels poses varied threats to Illinois waterways, groundwater aquifers, and air quality.

Reducing pollution from fossil fuel extraction should be a priority of any state extraction policies. If resources are extracted in Illinois, the operators should fully fund efficient and effective permitting, inspection, and enforcement programs as well as any costs related to pollution or environmental damage caused by these operations.

Renewable energy

Illinois is on track to get 25% of its renewables by 2025

energy efficiency

Consumers get the same services for less money

fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels harms our health and environment


The transportation sector is now the largest carbon emitter

Coal Pollution in Illinois

Coal underlies 65% of Illinois—as demand for Appalachian coal declines, Illinois communities are facing a surge of new coal mining. The risk imposed on those living in Illinois coal mining communities is increased even more due to deficient permitting and enforcement programs that grant industry lax and inexpensive requirements. Coal mining pollutes water, damages or destroys prime farmland, and pollutes our air. Illinois regulatory agencies regularly grant permission to mine through streams and wetlands, which also threatens water quality downstream. Underground long-wall mining intentionally subsides thousands of acres of land, which impacts groundwater and surface streams, water wells, prime farmland, and roads.
The coal industry should be responsible for funding adequate inspection, permitting, and enforcement program as well as any damages to the state. While Illinois has a proud history of being one of the first states with a surface reclamation law, the impacts of mining on the state have been permanent and devastating. We must learn from this experience and make the protection of water resources a priority. Dams on small streams for coal should no longer be allowed. Coal ash and coal ash ponds should be adequately regulated by IEPA rulemaking. Coal impoundment should require financial assurance. Finally, slurry ponds should be prohibited from using waters of the state as treatment work and being able to remain permanently under SMCRA.
As families retreat from mining impacts, the rural network of long-time farm families in Illinois is destroyed. Towns become dependent on the boom and bust coal industry. When the coal is gone, the mining employment ends, leaving a toxic legacy of coal waste for future generations. If mine companies go out of business with insufficient bonding, state and local communities are faced with cleaning up the abandoned mine land.
Outdated pollution control technologies do not remove pollution in waste-water or site runoff before it is discharged into rivers, streams, and lakes. Coalmines utilize millions of gallons of fresh water each day at each mine to wash the coal. The highly polluted waste-water, or coal slurry, is stored permanently in large impoundments, often exceeding a billion gallons of toxic liquid, which can leak and contaminating surface and/or groundwater. Additionally, coalmines contribute to air pollution from emissions of particulate matter and gases, including methane, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, as well as carbon monoxide. High levels of suspended particulate matter increase respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma, while gaseous emissions contribute to respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebral problems.
Coal ash contains heavy metals—such as mercury, arsenic, selenium, chromium, and cadmium—that can migrate into groundwater, lakes, rivers, and drinking water, threatening fish and other wildlife, and causing cancer and brain damage in humans. Some 4.4 million tons of coal ash are generated in, or imported into, Illinois each year and contaminants from coal ash have been recorded in the groundwater at 22 out of 24 coal-fired power plants investigated by the IEPA. A high percentage of Illinois fish samples exceed the safe mercury limit. Furthermore, fly ash particles (a major component of coal ash) in the air can trigger asthma, inflammation, and immunological reactions in humans. Studies link these particulates to heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, stroke, and silicosis (scarring of lung tissue), which can result in lung disease and cancer. Lastly, the heavy metals and radioactivity in coal ash may increase the harm caused by inhalation.

Oil and Gas Pollution in Illinois

Natural gas development via hydraulic fracturing leaves extensive environmental degradation in its wake. Fracturing a single deeper horizontal shale well can use anywhere from 2 to 10 million gallons of water. This can result in ecological impacts to aquatic resources, as well as the de-watering of drinking water aquifers. A variety of chemicals—many known to be toxic to humans and wildlife—make up 0.5% to 2.0% of the total volume of fracturing fluid. When millions of gallons of water are being used, however, the amount of toxic chemicals per fracking operation is very large.
Human exposure to fracking chemicals can occur by ingesting chemicals that have spilled and entered drinking water sources, through direct skin contact with the chemicals or wastes, or by breathing in vapors from flowback wastes stored in open pits or tanks. Contamination of soil and surface waters can occur due to spills during transportation, fracturing operations, and waste disposal, resulting in fish kills and death of other aquatic fauna, and tainted watersheds and waterways.
Methane leaks resulting from natural gas production are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 25% of human caused global warming is caused by methane emissions, and the largest source of industrial emissions is the oil and gas industry.

Sand mining in Illinois is gearing up as the great “frac sand rush” that engulfed Wisconsin and Minnesota makes inroads in Illinois. In fracking operations, sand is mixed with water and chemicals, then injected underground to break apart rocks and unleash trapped oil and gas. The best sand for fracking has quartz grains that are relatively pure, hard enough to withstand pressure, and round enough to allow natural gas to flow around them easily. This kind of sand is not common, however, some of the world’s best deposits occur in the Midwest, with abundant supplies in northern and central Illinois. And as the fracking boom has taken off, so has demand: “frac sand” production could climb 30% from 2013 to 2015, an increase of about 95 billion pounds of sand, according to industry projections.

Frac sand mining threatens Illinois state parks and perhaps the entire Illinois River Valley, which could do serious damage to the fragile ecology of those areas. Negative impacts of these sand mining operations include: noise and dust from blasting and trucks; light pollution from mining operations; disturbance of flora and fauna; destruction of wetlands; drawing down and pollution of water resources; destruction of productive top soils needed for agriculture; and exposure to toxic chemicals and airborne particulate matter. Moreover, the sand is like tiny shards of glass that can lodge in the lungs, a condition similar to asbestosis.
Mining frac sand also requires the use and discharge of millions of gallons of water into nearby creeks and streams. The force of the flow of water can blow out smaller waterways and introduce more pollution into pristine areas, like waters that run through state parks. This degrades waterways, can choke sensitive aquatic life like mussels with silt, and erodes important habitat for riparian wildlife.

Current Fossil Fuel Laws

Since the early 1990s, new surface impoundments have been required to be lined. There are also requirements for groundwater monitoring well systems and hydrogeologic assessments at facilities. Further, where groundwater contamination has been found, cleanup/remediation is required. IEPA groundwater standards also contain stringent non-degradation requirements.

There are 24 power plants in Illinois with a total of 83 impoundments and one permitted landfill where coal ash is disposed. There are also older ash ponds at many of these facilities. Starting in 2008, IEPA initiated an aggressive strategy to assess the vulnerability of groundwater at power plants with near-by potable wells to determine the potential contamination threat to those wells.

Power plants may determine how to manage their coal ash, but must meet all applicable Illinois regulations. The options include: on-site disposal cell; off-site disposal cell; disposal in surface coal mines; disposal in underground coal mines (wet or dry); disposal in special waste landfills; and beneficial reuse.

Beneficial reuse–used in the manufacture of cement, concrete blocks, wallboard, snow and ice control, aggregate in cement, soil stabilization and as a sub-layer in road construction.


  • IEPA Bureau of Water: Construction and operating permits issued in conjunction with National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits require surface impoundments to be in compliance with Illinois ground- and surface water quality standards including non-degradation requirements.
  • The IDNR Office of Mines and Minerals regulates coal ash residue where there is onsite disposal or plans to use ash as part of a reclamation project.
  • The IDNR Office of Dam Safety regulates all structures that meet the definition of a dam, as defined in the Illinois Administrative Code. Of the 1600+ dams in the state that clearly fall under the regulations, only about 650 have an active permit. The rest are low hazard dams that do not require active permits, but are still regulated.

IPCB groundwater management zone provisions are consistent with federal closure requirements for solid waste landfills..

Signed into law on June 17, 2013. The result of extensive negotiations among industry groups, environmentalists, state legislators, and state agencies, it is one of the most stringent laws on hydraulic fracturing in the nation.

Protections Against Water Pollution:

  • Prohibition on open-air ponds for wastewater storage to minimize the risk of water pollution (except temporarily in unforeseeable circumstances).
  • Provides protections against water pollution by requiring that: (a) wastewater be reused in fracking or injected deep underground, (b) wastewater be tested for dangerous chemicals and (c) wells be shut down if fracking fluid is released outside of the shale rock formation being fractured.
  • Requires both baseline and periodic post-fracking testing of surface water and groundwater sources near fracking wells so pollution can be quickly and easily identified.
  • Places the onus on fracking companies to prove that contamination of water sources near the well site was not caused by fracking.
  • Mandates the largest setback of any state from public water supply intakes.
  • Protects against contamination by requiring numerous best engineering practices for well construction, casements and maintenance.

Transparency and Public Participation:


  • Chemical disclosure requirements for both before and after fracking occurs (base fluids, additives, and chemicals).
  • Provisions to ensure that only qualified trade secrets are protected, that the public can challenge trade secret designations, and that health needs trump companies’ right to protect chemical information.
  • Requirements that fracking permit applicants submit a water management plan describing the source of water to be used for fracking, the location where that water will be withdrawn, the anticipated volume and rate of each water withdrawal, the months when withdrawals will take place, and post-fracking reporting of the total water used and the locations from which the water was withdrawn.
  • Notice of the permit application is published twice in a local newspaper and sent directly to owners of property near the proposed well site and is made available for public comment for 30 days.
  • Anyone who may be adversely affected by the permit may request a public hearing, where parties may present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Final permit decisions are subject to judicial review.
  • Any adversely affected persons may sue (a) fracking companies for violations of the Act, and (b) the IDNR for failure to perform its duties under the Act.

Other Key Provisions

  • Applicants must describe methods they will use to minimize water withdrawals and adverse impact to aquatic life from those withdrawals.
  • Fracking companies are required to capture natural gas and put it to beneficial use unless they demonstrate that it would be technically infeasible or economically unreasonable to do so, in which case, they must flare the gas.
  • If a noticeable earthquake occurs which can be traced to the deep underground wells where fracking waste is injected, IDNR will adopt rules to monitor seismic impacts and limit injection activity.
  • The IDNR has broad authority to administer and enforce the Act, including authority to inspect sites, collect data, require testing or sampling, examine records and logs, hold hearings, and adopt rules.

Fossil Fuel Updates

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