MARION -- Lawmakers met Wednesday afternoon in a private forum with coal industry leaders, pledging support for the diminishing portion of the energy sector once known as King Coal.
The forum was part of the Illinois Basin Coal and Mining Expo, held in Marion Tuesday and Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers and some candidates spoke, telling coal company CEOs and others in attendance that they intend to continue to support the coal industry.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said coal remains the victim of an undeserved reputation as a "dirty" fuel.
Bost, who said his maternal grandparents' family from Pinckneyville and was involved in coal mining, said his family watched with great concern as environmental laws chipped away at Illinois coal. As a state representative, Bost sat on the Illinois Clean Coal Review Board, which worked to reconcile the high BTU output of Illinois coal with tightening emissions standards.
"Folks, we have an uphill battle with our colleagues in Washington, D.C. I do believe we're headed in the right direction," Bost said. "The reason I say that is, we have removed a lot of the government regulations that would stifle the growth in our coal fields (and) from the opportunity to mine that coal and use it to the best of our ability."
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus said everybody in southern Illinois likes to claim some mining heritage. His own great-grandfather mined coal in Collinsville after immigrating to the U.S. from Lithuania, until he deciding he wanted to sell clothing.
Shimkus credits President Donald Trump with putting coal back on the energy playing field by loosening restrictions on coal mines. He added the coal industry faces increased competition from renewable energy businesses who get advantageous tax credits.
"In the tax credits we see given to 'green energy' it disincentivizes what we're here to talk about the importance of," he said. "Part of this whole environmental debate is making sure we get credit for the things we're doing right but also try to address this on a level playing field."
Gov. Bruce Rauner spoke to reporters prior to speaking at the symposium, saying he has always been strong on coal.
"I want to be sure that we're growing the coal industry every way that we can," Rauner said, adding he's "proud" to sign the bill to extend the sales tax exemption for mining machinery and equipment for another five years.
"I want to do everything I can to roll back the income tax hike, keep taxes reasonable, keep the regulatory burden reasonable and make sure that we're growing our coal industry," Rauner said.