DNR decides not to allow coal mining at state park

In a small, but significant victory for Indiana residents and the environment, Gov. Mitch Daniels has reversed his decision to allow the state’s largest coal company to begin mining operations in a state wildlife preserve.

In late August of this year, Kyle Hupfer, then the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, gave permission to Black Beauty Coal to conduct exploratory drilling in the Glendale State Fish and Wildlife Area in Daviess County. It was only after residents, horrified by the sight of drilling rigs in the state’s wetlands, began to express their outrage that the DNR made the drilling project public.

Drilling results came back on Dec. 11, showing substantial coal reserves in the area.

But in a surprise announcement last week, Rob Carter, the new director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said the state would not allow Black Beauty to go forward with the mining.

“There appears to be a viable coal reserve in the area of Glendale where the exploration was conducted,” Carter said, “however, as Governor Daniels and [former] director Hupfer said this fall, for actual mining to take place, there needed to be both local support and support from hunters and fishermen around the state for us to go forward.”

Carter said, “That support never materialized.”

On Oct. 11, nearly two months after the drilling occurred, the DNR hosted a public meeting about the project. The public was understandably outraged about the proposal, with about 90 percent of the 400-member audience against it. Ten percent of the audience was made up of supporters and employees of Black Beauty Coal. Most in attendance were incensed that the state used eminent domain to seize private land from individuals to create the wildlife area more than 50 years ago, and was now considering privatizing the state land and selling it to a subsidiary of one of the largest coal companies in the world. While opposition to the drilling plan came from around the state, residents in Glendale led the charge in stopping the plan. Local business owner Mark Dillon collected nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition to stop the drilling, accounting for nearly every resident within a 10-mile radius of the wildlife preserve.

Located in Southern Indiana, between Jasper and Vincennes, Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area was founded in 1956 and is comprised of more than 8,000 acres that are home to some of the state’s most abundant wildlife habitats, including quail, rabbit, dove, squirrel, deer, turkey, woodcock, pheasant, raccoon, fox and coyote.

The Glendale area also features Dogwood Lake, which is popular with anglers for catfish, crappie, bluegill and largemouth bass. The southern end of the lake has a nesting pair of bald eagles. Because the land was acquired by the state using federal funds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have to approve the project for it to move forward.

In announcing their decision not to allow coal mining at Glendale, the DNR pointed out the resulting loss of revenue for the state. According to Carter, the decision “came despite the finding of a coal reserve that could have been mined and appeared to be merchantable. DNR’s sale of coal from public lands has, in the past, resulted in significant bonus lands coming into state ownership, as well as a market-rate payment for the coal itself.”

Carter said efforts to expand state public land holdings preserved for hunting and fishing would continue, using other means than profits from coal mining.

State Legislator Dave Crooks, who represents the residents of Glendale and the surrounding area, now plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly that would require legislative approval for any business wishing to mine in a state park, fish and wildlife area or recreation area in Indiana.

Currently, 75 percent of the state’s energy expenditures leave Indiana for imports of coal, natural gas and oil. Coal provides over 90 percent of electric generation in the state, but over 50 percent of the coal consumed comes from outside of the state. Indiana has an abundance of coal — 17 billion tons of reserves or 485 years’ worth at current consumption rates — but it is high in sulfur content and requires clean air technologies to use productively.

Black Beauty Coal, the largest coal company in Indiana, now has billions of tons of unusable Indiana coal sitting in reserve. Because of its high sulfur content, Indiana coal can’t be burned in traditional utility plants without undergoing costly pollution controls.