New Coalition of Veterans and Others take on Mr. Peabody's Coal Mine
On Jan. 19th, there will be a two-day intensive direct action training in St. Louis by a coalition of low income, environmental and indigenous groups to fight Peabody, Monsanto and others who are destroying their environment and health. All are invited.
The two-day training is part of a larger three week training winter camp.
On Jan. 25, Veterans for Peace joins RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People Survival) in an action at the Headquarters of Peabody Coal Mine to call for an end to the war on Mother Earth. They say, "Our quest for peace, justice and a sustainable world comes to the doorstep of Peabody Energy with these four demands:
1. Stop all forms of strip mining and mountaintop removal
2. Stop polluting the watershed and the air we breathe
Except for my time away in school and in the Army, I have dealt daily with the initially ongoing and now the past coal mining here in West Central Illinois. I initially wanted to share a more historical account of the coal mining and affects caused by Peabody activities here, but found that I could not separate my own personal connection to what Peabody has wrought here. One will have to just skim over the personal stuff if one has interest in the factual firsthand accounts of what Peabody has done here in my little corner of the world.
I farm both virgin and mine ground. Yes, that is what everyone around here calls land that has not been mined and ground that has been mined. I do not wish to diminish the horror of rape, but to be semantically consistent; the land should be called virgin ground and raped ground. Peabody raped and forever changed some of the land that I farm.
I have deep roots to the land. Not as deep as the Native Americans who were here before my ancestors arrived, but still deep. When my great, great grandfather brought his family here from Sweden, he got caught up in the cholera epidemic in Chicago and along with one of his sons is buried in a mass grave in what is now Lincoln Park. The remaining family members were delayed and his daughter died on the way out here and was buried beside the trail in an unmarked grave somewhere between here and Chicago. My great, great grandmother and her three young sons got here too late to build a cabin before winter set in, so they dug a cave in a hillside to spend their first winter. When summer came, one of the remaining sons was struck by lightning and killed. My great grandfather settled ground and farmed some of the same ground that I farm now and some of the same ground that was raped by Peabody.
Abraham Lincoln enlisted in the Illinois Militia for 35, 21, and 18 day services to drive the Sauk, Fox, Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk nations back out of Illinois when Black Hawk led them back into Illinois to reclaim lost lands. On his first enlistment, Lincoln went from Beardstown to Rock Island, which would have placed him in or near where I live. To my knowledge, I never came in contact with any Native Americans growing up. Back in the days when we plowed, I would occasionally find an arrowhead, however. I am quite cognizant that I am just a short term caretaker of the land. As Chief Seattle said, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.”
When I watched the documentary “Dakota 38+2”, I was in tears both times I saw it. I could understand the attachment to the land that was a large part of the Dakota culture that was ripped away from them violently. At the Oct. 7 action at the Viet Nam Memorial in NYC, Chris Hedges introduced me to Palagummi Sainath and his wife. Palagummi is a quite well known and honored journalist in India who was at Princeton for 6 months to teach journalism. Palagummi said that he was a rural journalist. He is the one that broke the story about the high rate of farmers committing suicide in India-one every 30 minutes. Before being removed by the NYPD, I had a chance to discuss this with Palagummi. He pointed out astutely that this is why agriculture is called a culture. It is understandable that when the attachment to the land is broken for the Dakota nation and the India’s farmers that suicide is quite high. Peabody’s destruction of land means that for some that connection is removed.
I had a chance to avoid going to Viet Nam. When I was undergoing Basic and AIT infantry training at Ft. Dix I got a pass for a weekend in NYC. A friend hooked me up with a young lady in Greenwich Village that had arranged all the logistics for me to go to Canada. I was against the war, but could not break my attachment to the land in Illinois. During my tour in Viet Nam, I spent a couple weeks at the shrimp farm of my fiancée’s parents in the northern part of Thailand. I could have just stayed there and not been found for some time (technically I was already AWOL), but again could not sever my attachment to the Illinois land. For me the land is a big deal as it is with the Native Americans and other fellow farmers throughout the world.
In 1956, Midland Coal Company moved into my area. In 1957 they built the largest shovel in the world at the time to remove the soil over the coal. The coal here is located about 30-40 feet below ground and is a relatively shallow 2-3 foot vein of coal. Midland was sold to Peabody Coal Company in 1963. Peabody operated the surface mining operation in the hay day when most of the ground was mined. After my good friend the late Jane Johnson relentlessly protested and campaigned to shut the mining down, the regulations were slowly changed that eventually did shut down all coal mining here in Knox County. Peabody sold the mining operation to Asarco in 1970 when it became evident that they could no longer make huge profits. Asarco was a 49% owned Mexican subsidiary at the time. Asarco continued to operate at a reduced rate for a few more years before being forced to shut down for good by activist demanded regulations that ended their profits. In 2005 Asarco filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Texas.
There is no accountability for what Peabody has done here. As a corporation they have limited liability anyway, but they have firewalls set up by having sold all of their connections to the damaged land. The Illinois Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program was set up with the activist demanded regulations. When Peabody was operating in this area, they were required to contribute a token amount of money to the program. Those limited funds are to address any dangers to the public that remains after the mining. I have been able to apply for and receive funding for a couple major construction projects on mine ground that I own to address these dangers. My initiated projects fixed the township road that was taken out in the mining process and not adequately replaced. I am the one that is responsible now for slowly repairing and getting the land back to better health.
I crunched the numbers on the impact that the mining had on the ground that I have farmed. I have side by side comparisons, so it is an accurate reflection of what the effect has been in this particular situation. Many consider the land here to be the most productive farm land in the world in terms of producing food. I along with one full time employee and three part time family members produce enough food to potentially feed 17,500 people. This would be a bland 2000 calorie/day diet. The early pre regulated mining changed the land from being able to feed about 7 people per acre to 1/10 of a person per acre. The ground that I farm was part of the regulated mining and has been leveled to make it farmable. Thirty years ago it was capable of producing about 16% of what it used to produce before being strip mined. After decades of growing deep rooted grasses and legumes, and now farming it with no till I have increased the organic matter and health of the soil so that it now is up to about 40% of what it once was. If one eliminates the resultant lakes and other non farmable parts of the land, this figure goes up to 60%. Every year the soil gets better, but I do not expect the productivity to get much better in my lifetime.
Mining here was the low hanging fruit for the coal companies. Activist encouraged legislation shut them down by making it no longer profitable. The impact is certainly less damaging to the environment than the mountain top removal methods.
Another indication of the impact of mining is the assessment values that the county gives to the land. My recent assessments shows that the assessed value of mine ground is 5% that of virgin ground. Since almost all school funding for education here in Illinois comes from real estate taxes, the amount that our local schools, as well as local fire districts and township governments receive in revenue was reduced 95% on each acre of mine ground in their districts.
The land does not have to be raped to get energy. The wind rights to all my virgin ground are leased to a wind energy project. There are 200 some wind turbines a couple miles north of where I live. Hopefully, in the next year or so, we will have turbines on our ground. Mined ground cannot be used for wind turbines, since the ground is too unstable for the 200 foot turbines that cost $2 million plus each. Putting them on our virgin ground will reduce the farm productivity by less than 1%. I actually like looking at them and have not seen any dead birds or other so called costs of them being around. The noise level standing next to them is the same as your average refrigerator. Unlike looking at videos and pictures of our shock and awe activities in other countries to seize energy resources, I find the seizing of wind for energy to be soothing and calming. The wind farms also provide millions of dollars of additional revenue for local schools.
In fairness I should mention that the mining has created lots of recreational ground. The final passes of the giant shovel were left and are now clear 20-35 foot deep lakes. I have done extensive wildlife work on the ground and have set aside 20% of all of our farm ground for wildlife. As a Christmas gift to my five young grandkids, I spent a lot time with the dozer making 22 ponds and wetlands. I will be doing projects with the kids so that they can see how nature works. Nature does its work on mine ground as with the virgin ground, but it is much more difficult and less productive than the wildlife projects that I have on virgin ground. Even the lakes themselves are less productive. A strip mine lake produces about 25% as many pounds of fish per acre as does a lake on virgin ground.
I also get the same credit for carbon sequestration with my farming activities on mine ground as virgin ground. Back when we actually got an incentive to sequester CO2, I sold carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. Unfortunately, from my perspective of convincing my neighbors to use more climate friendly farming methods, this incentive is no longer available. Even though the amount was just a fraction of what farmers in Europe get for sequestering CO2, the message now sent to me and my fellow farmers is that sequestering CO2 is of zero value. Heaven forbid that the purists get upset by their perception that companies might ease their conscience by buying credits. I would have to drive 2.2 million miles a year to have a zero carbon footprint.
A few years ago I testified before congress on the farm bill and take some perverse pride in being the only one of the six that testified that day to be booed by those in the audience. My congressman at the time, Ray LaHood, knew me well enough when he asked me a question to know what I my answer would be. If the benefits out weight the costs, I am willing to incur the costs, including getting down and dirty and possibly damaging parts of the environment for the greater good.
The coal mining locally was shut down by going after the reason for large companies to exist-their ability to make money. I wish Jane Johnson was still alive, as I know she would want to be in St. Louis for the Peabody action. She is universally recognized as the prime mover in getting the regulations in place to shut them down. I will contact her husband who is a WW2 vet and still has not progressed enough yet to talk about what he did in that war. At Jane’s visitation at the funeral home, the line stretched out into the street. Jane’s husband held the line up for several minutes when I expressed my condolences to him, as he went on and on about how much it meant to Jane that I agreed at her urging to speak out against war as a veteran. It may not have been deserved, but it meant so much to me to have him express this. There is a direct connection between speaking out against war and speaking out against violence to the environment.
Peabody is as good of an example of existing American fascism as any. I attended the same school (Iowa State University) as Henry Wallace. His name is on the main building in the agriculture college and he is highly respected in ag circles. In 1944 Wallace wrote an extensive article for the NY Times defining American fascism. Peabody fits his definition, specifically as Wallace wrote “one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings.” Wallace was Secretary of Agriculture from 1933-1940, FDR’s vice president and ran for president as the nominee of the Progressive Party in 1948. Pete Seeger sang at campaign rallies for Wallace. At Obama’s inauguration Seeger along with Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie’s grandson Tao, who sang for us at the VFP convention in Minneapolis, sang Woody’s song “This Land Is Your Land”. It was cold standing on the frozen ground listening to them, but it was the highlight of the Inauguration for me. As the song emphasizes, the land belongs to each and every one of us, or as Chief Seattle more accurately said, we all belong to it. We should not just stand aside and watch the rape and do nothing.
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