74th Annual Old King Coal Festival - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

74th Annual Old King Coal Festival

WEST FRANKFORT, IL (KFVS) -

The first night of the 74th annual "Old King Coal Festival" in West Frankfort was on Thursday, May 7.

For many this year, the town's annual celebration of a rich mining history is calling attention to new regulations that could put further strain on modern coal production.

The proposed regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency fall in line with a plan President Barack Obama introduced in 2014, which cited coal fired electricity production as one of the main reasons the United States is the worlds second largest producer of CO2 emissions.

Fair organizers and local miners say their fear is that decisions are being made without thought to jobs and economic impact the coal industry has on the country.

"If you have coal mines, they have to be supported by different kinds of local industry." said fair organizer and local historian Marcia Raubach, "that supplies a lot of jobs to southern Illinois, in addition to any mines in operation."

Forty percent of electricity produced in Illinois is generated by burning coal, and officials with the Illinois Coal Association say the industry generates roughly 40,000 jobs statewide.

Mining was introduced in West Frankfort in the early 1900s, and at the peak of operation, US Census data shows the town grew to nearly 20,000 residents.

Retired West Frankfort miner Jack McReynolds said at one time there were seven operating mines within city limits.

Modern data lists West Frankfort as a town with just over 8,000 residents, at a time when there is one coal mine in operation.

"Everyone who lives here in town knows someone who was a miner." McReynolds explained.

"There's still coal down there, we didn't run out." said Raubach. "The issue is government regulations. They say we can't mine the coal we do have."

Raubach said the coal under the city is "high-sulfuric-coal," which is known to cause acid rain when burned.

A recent study published by Harvard and Syracuse University researchers claims the new regulation will help save an average of 3,500 lives across the US every year, who currently die from soot and smog related conditions.

Illinois Coal Association president Phil Gonet will be speaking about the coal industry and EPA regulations this weekend.

For details on the festival and a schedule, click here.

Copyright 2015 KFVS. All rights reserved.

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