Hundreds gather for Illinois Coal forum in Marion - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Hundreds gather for Illinois Coal forum in Marion

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MARION, Ill. — Deregulation and rolling back green energy subsidies were two of the common themes at the Illinois coal symposium in Marion Wednesday evening.

There, hundreds of people affiliated with the coal industry, from miners to CEOs, discussed the future of the industry in the state. 

“Our challenge is competing with subsidized wind and solar that is disruptive for the marketplace,” said Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft. 

Craft says federal regulations enacted under President Obama and subsidies given to green energy companies are making it hard for coal to compete. 

U.S. Representative John Shimkus agrees. He says there's a place for all energy options and businesses that want to come to the state, but says that in order for green energy to be successful, it still takes a strong coal industry.

“For these green generations to function, the wind and solar, you always have to have a solid base load, and that's coal and a nuclear fleet, especially in this area,” Rep. Shimkus said. 

The coal industry in Illinois has been in decline over the past few decades. In 1990, the state produced 62 million tons of coal and employed about 10,000 people in the industry. 

Last year the state produced less than 50 million tons of coal and employed just 3,200 employees.

Despite the drop, that number was up 10% over the previous year, as production in the state is up.

Executives attribute that growth to deregulation under the current White House administration.

“We're certainly glad that we have President Trump” said Knight Hawk Coal President Steve Carter. 

Even with the growth, Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, says people can't expect the number of jobs in coal there once was. 

“It's only stopped the bleeding,” Gonet said. “It’s not going to bring coal back to where it was before unfortunately, but at least it's stopped the bleeding and enabled us to now plan for the future.”

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