Send Governor Tom Wolf a Letter Urging Him to Veto SB 624

Last week, the state legislature passed SB 624, which will allow longwall coal mining operators to predict total flow loss in Pennsylvania streams as long as they promise to fix them. The bill was specifically introduced to counter legal arguments made in our pending litigation to protect streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park from predicted subsidence-induced damage. Now, it is up to Governor Wolf to veto SB 624 by July 21st and protect Pennsylvania's parks and streams. SB 624 is an exemption that would only be made for longwall coal mining operators - not for anyone else and violates our environmental rights in the PA Constitution.  For the health of our streams and for the communities in which they flow, we cannot let this bill become law. Governor Wolf is our last line of defense and we need you to urge him to veto SB 624.

Greene County Residents Urge Governor to Veto SB 624

Greene County residents traveled to Harrisburg to meet with Governor Wolf and his staff to urge him to veto an unconstitutional bill attempting to exempt longwall coal mining from the PA Clean Streams Law, which would allow mining companies to predictably damage or pollute streams based on a promise to clean them up later, instead of preventing the damage in the first place.  

Kim Jones and Atilla Shumaker met with political leaders to make them aware of the lost streams and damages our community has already experienced from longwall mining. Over ten years ago, Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park was destroyed due to longwall mining, and now residents are fighting to protect the few water resources that are left in the Park. A stream on Jones’s property was undermined in 2004 and was dewatered. After years of mitigation attempts, the stream has not been restored to pre-mining conditions which include pre-mining flow and aquatic biology which has not recovered since it was mined.

“Mitigation does not protect streams and I felt it necessary to share my story with the Governor,” said Kim Jones, from Wind Ridge, PA.  “It is just one example of the need to protect streams against severe harm, rather than trying to mitigate the harm after it occurs.”

Streams immediately west of Ryerson Station State Park have not recovered In 2012, DEP two letters The DEP never issued a final order on the success of mitigation on Ms. Jones’s  impacted streams, nor several other areas in the North Fork Dunkard Fork watershed, located in Ryerson Station State Park.

“Even the last review of Pennsylvania’s mining law showed that we have lost several miles of streams. These streams are vital to our community and headwaters that source Pittsburgh's drinking water. The state has been entrusted to protect our resources and Governor Wolf has both a moral and constitutional responsibility to do that for everyone including future generations to enjoy,” said Atilla Shumaker.

Atilla Shumaker with the Wheeling Creek Watershed Association was also with the group that traveled to the Capitol.

At the 11th annual DRYerson Festival, the Center for Coalfield Justice collected video messages from local community members urging Governor Wolf to protect the remaining streams and veto the bill. The delegation delivered these messages directly to the Governor’s office so his staff could hear directly from residents who couldn’t travel to Harrisburg.

Despite bipartisan opposition, the State Senate and House voted to pass SB 624

“Senator Bartolotta and Representative Snyder, who support this unconstitutional legislation, have again failed to prioritize the economic future of Ryerson Station State Park and our families over the private profits of a coal corporation,” said Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Center for Coalfield Justice. “Our environmental justice community is depending upon Governor Wolf to veto this destructive bill (SB 624) and protect our constitutional rights to clean, safe and healthy streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park.”

 

 

Senate Passes Mine Pollution Exemption

Despite bipartisan opposition, the State Senate voted to pass SB 624 today. This bill creates an exemption in an 80 year old law that would essentially let mining companies pollute now and clean up their mess later, if ever. What's worse, the bill will retroactively include certain mining permits, essentially allowing Consol Energy to continue, unimpeded, the destruction of Ryerson Station State Park with their operations at the Bailey Mine.  

Thomas Schuster Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative and Veronica Coptis Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice responded in unison:

“Governor Wolf must veto this bill. In doing so he will send a strong message to fossil fuel companies that people's rights come before corporate greed. We are incredibly disappointed in the actions of the Senate today and urge lawmakers in that body to look beyond their campaign coffers when making legislative decisions that affect people across the state. Thank you to the 21 Republican and Democratic Senators who stood up to this bill and voted no. Now it's up to Governor Wolf to take decisive action, putting a stop to this blatant corporate cash grab, by vetoing SB 624."

Smile - Support CCJ on Amazon Prime Day

If you’re like the staff here at The Center for Coalfield Justice, you love getting a good deal, which is why Amazon Prime Day is one of the best days of the year. This year, starting at 9:00 PM on Monday, July 10th and continuing throughout the day on Tuesday, July 11th, Prime members will have access to hundreds of thousands of deals online through Amazon.com. If you are already planning to shop on this day, CCJ has one request: shop using Amazon Smile and pick CCJ as your charity of choice.

Amazon Smile is a program which donates 0.5% of the price of eligible items to the nonprofit organization of your choice. This means that you don’t have to spend more to donate to a cause that needs your support. This program is accessible all year round via a web browser (you can’t use the app), but on this particular day - when you’re likely going to be shopping anyway - it could make an even bigger difference to frontline groups, like CCJ. To shop and have your purchases be put toward CCJ, use this link.

As always, CCJ is so thankful for the incredible support we receive. As our communities support us, we look to always be able to support them in return.

Public Hearing on Proposed Natural Gas Plant in Robinson Township, Washington County

Map of Shale Gas Activity in Robinson Township, Washington County

Map of Shale Gas Activity in Robinson Township, Washington County

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 6:00 PM at the Fort Cherry Jr./Sr. High School Auditorium (110 Fort Cherry Road, McDonald, PA 15057) for an Air Quality Plan Approval application for the proposed Robinson Power Company, LLC Beech Hollow Project. The proposed natural gas-fired combined cycle power plant with a 1,000 MW generating capacity would be located adjacent to the Champion Processing Inc. waste coal pile in Robinson Township, Washington County.

Attend the meeting to learn what Robinson Power plans are and get your questions answered. Public testimony will begin at 7:00 PM and each individual will have 5 minutes to testify. The DEP encourages people to register beforehand to testify at the hearing by submitting written notice to Lauren Fraley, Community Relations Coordinator at lfraley@pa.gov, care of DEP’s Southwest Regional Office, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or by phone at 412-442-4203. There will also be an opportunity to register on site on the evening of the hearing.

Individuals who cannot attend the hearing may submit written public comments to the attention of Alan Binder, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or abinder@pa.gov. Written testimony must include the commenter’s name, address, and phone number and reference the proposed Robinson Power Plan Approval (PA-63-00922D). Public comments will be accepted until July 22, 2017 at 4:00 PM.

Documents for the application are available at DEP office or at the link below:

http://www.dep.pa.gov/About/Regional/SouthwestRegion/Community%20Information/Pages/default.aspx

Community Comes Together to Fight for Streams in Ryerson Station State Park

The 11th Annual DRYerson Festival was a huge success. Over 60 people came together to celebrate Ryerson Station State Park and took action to protect our streams in and around the park.

We celebrated with good food and awesome music from the talented Steve Ventura, who also plays in the band Mon Valley Push. . Our community organizer, Sarah Martik, made sure folks knew what was going on, talked with people about CCJ’s work, and even sang “Brighter Than the Sun” by Colbie Caillat with Steve Our staff attorney, Sarah Winner, answered questions about the pending litigation. Veronica Coptis, our Executive Director, delivered the following comments to the community:

Being here at Ryerson with all of you is so powerful to me. It is impossible to put into words the influence these majestic hills and forests have had on me. I grew up here as I’m sure so did many of you. Most major memories in my life have something that ties back to the park, our streams, and what used to be our lake. That is why it means the world to me and the Center for Coalfield Justice that you took time today to make it clear that our community will fight back against the many attacks on our park right now.

 Over the decade we have built public pressure and held Consol accountable to the law, and we have been winning. This past winter, when Governor Tom Wolf sided with Consol and issued yet another permit despite the fact that it was predicted our streams would be dewatered, we stood up and said no. Our amazing attorney, Sarah Winner, quickly filed an appeal and a supersedeas, which means asking the judge to halt operations while the legal case proceeds because the stream would suffer damage that could be permanent. Mike Becher and Susan Waldie from Appalachian Mountain Advocates joined our legal team shortly before the hearing in January. We WON because of the hard work of our legal team and the support from all of you. We are still waiting for the final decision from the Environmental Hearing Board judges, but make sure to sign in so you don’t miss any updates.

 As they’ve made clear, taking our lake, taking our streams, is not enough for Consol. They have applied for more permits to mine under more streams in the park. We need your help to show the Department of Environmental Protection and Governor Wolf that this time they should be on the right side, with the community, and deny these permits.

 Because we are winning, the coal industry is pushing back. They are lobbying for Senate Bill 624, which attempts to exempt the longwall coal mining industry from the Clean Streams Law. SB 624 was passed in the Senate along party lines and is in the House of Representatives. It is crucial today that we send a clear message to Governor Tom Wolf that it is time he stand with environmental justice communities and not coal companies. We need the Governor to veto this unconstitutional legislation, and we encourage all of you to record a video message that I will be delivering to his staff in person on Monday in Harrisburg. Our volunteer, Eva, will be recording your messages over by the canoe, so stop over to see her before you leave today.

I am honored to serve you all and make our concerns heard in Harrisburg but I can’t do it alone. The fight to protect this park is going to be a long one, but together I know that I will be sitting by the iron bridge one day teaching my daughter how to fish like my dad did with me.

 At the same time that we are working so diligently to protect the park from more harm, the Ryerson Task Force is working hard to rebuild a place where memories can be made again. The design work for the new pool almost completed and feasibility studies are being done for restoring the stream in through the dry lake bed. But all of the money that has been set aside for restoring Ryerson will be wasted if we don’t have any water left in the park. So, if you haven’t already today, take action by recording a video, signing up to receive emails from us so you can sign petitions, and just talking to your neighbors about what we want for our towns.

Over fifteen people recorded video messages to Governor Tom Wolf about what Ryerson Station State Park means to them and why protecting the park is so important. There can be no doubt that  people are dedicated to the fight for Ryerson are going do what it takes to protect it.  

 We ended the day with water balloons. Check out more pictures from the event on our facebook page

Thank you to everyone that supported and attended this year’s DRYerson Festival!

Reclaiming our brownfields with Federal funds

For people living in Appalachia, seeing rundown power plants, giant slag piles, and rusted mining infrastructure is part of everyday life.  The people who live in the brownfields have become so accustomed to seeing these in our communities that we sometimes don’t see them for what they are:  eyesores and missed opportunities.  With the decline in coal consumption and investment leading to an eventual total loss of the coal industry, these very same communities face an economic future that is scary – which is why the idea of reclaiming these areas has been introduced in Congress in three different bills (two in the Senate, one in the House), called the RECLAIM Act.

Details about what exactly is in the RECLAIM Act are difficult to find if you only try Google, and the political details are a little unclear.  What’s important to look at when you talk about RECLAIM are the ideas presented in the different forms of the bill.  Funding for projects is important, and all versions of the bill allocate $1 billion for reclamation projects.  This funding then raises some questions:  what lands can use RECLAIM funds, what are the guidelines for the projects, and who should be involved in project proposals? The answers to these questions are where the political issues come in. Let’s look at the background of the bill, then continue to evaluate the bills that are in Congress right now.  

RECLAIM relies on the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) to indicate which types of sites can receive funding.  SMCRA sets out three different types of sites: Priority 1 sites deal with the protection of public health, safety, and property from extreme danger of adverse effects of coal mining practices; Priority 2 sites deal with the protection of public health and safety from adverse effects of coal mining practices; and, Priority 3 sites deal with the restoration of land and water resources and the environment previously degraded by adverse effects of coal mining practices including measures for the conservation and development of soil, water (excluding channelization), woodland, fish and wildlife, recreation resources and agricultural productivity.  In extremely simple terms, Priority 1 and 2 sites are dangerous (P1 more so than P2), but Priority 3 sites are just bad, not dangerous, and in need of some TLC.  SMCRA also created the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR), which has the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) funding.  AML funding - which is a separate budget - already goes to Priority 1, 2, and 3 sites, with the understanding that P1 and P2 sites take priority because they are dangerous.  RECLAIM would add $1 billion to the state AML agencies: in Pennsylvania, this is the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program as part of the Department of Environmental Protection.  In summary:  DEP already receives federal funding to work on AML projects, focusing mostly on P1 and P2 sites, and then continuing with projects on P3 sites if there is funding left over.  RECLAIM would allocate an additional $330 million to PA.  

There are some provisions that are important to creating the most effective law possible.  There are various nonprofit organizations and state agencies that are on-the-ground, working with and within communities to find effective ways to reclaim lands and create economic opportunities.  These agencies and organizations are all considered stakeholders because they have a vested interest in the community already.  The most effective form of the law would ideally have provisions that include stakeholder collaboration:  it wouldn’t only be the government agencies determining which projects need funding or in what direction a project should go.  This is extremely important for community engagement.  These reclamation projects should be something that communities actually want, not something that is forced upon them.  Additionally, when evaluating plans, it is not enough to clean up a mess and let that be good enough.  We are able to clean up abandoned mine lands, of course, but we also have an opportunity to create long-term economic growth at the same time by carefully selecting and planning the projects.  Instead of cleaning up a sludge pile by only planting grass, why not grow grape vines that don’t need the same kind of root system as trees but could help a local vineyard or winery?  Or why not install solar panels on the reclaimed CRDAs?  Economic diversification needs to be included in the language of the bill.  Most importantly, all of these ideas - stakeholder collaboration and economic diversification - need to apply to all sites, P1, 2, and 3 alike.  

Now that we have some background, let’s look at the actual legislation that is on the table.  There have been different versions of the bill that have been introduced in both the House and the Senate in the past, but the active bill that should be focused on is H.R. 1731. This bill was introduced by Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), and it included language for stakeholder collaboration that was left out of previous bills, but it left out funding for Priority 1 and 2 sites, which means that it would only be effective for about 25% of the country’s abandoned coal mines. “In its current form, the bill promotes the first goal of restoring abandoned mines, however, H.R. 1731 as written does not sufficiently promote the second stated goal of the RECLAIM Act:  spurring economic diversification on reclaimed sites. This is because the current language does not incentivize tying mine reclamation with creating long-term economic projects on ‘Priority 1 and 2’ Abandoned Mine Land sites,” says Fritz Boettner of Downstream Strategies.  In order for us to get to an “ideal” bill, it would need amendments.  There are two different companion bills in committee in the Senate, one from Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and one from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).  These versions of the bill have not seen the same traction as the House bill, so the House bill is the one we need to look at most closely.

An amendment was recently passed in the House National Resources Committee with a new proposal from Representative Don Beyer (D-VA).  This amendment alters the language of the bill to include Priority 1 and 2 sites in RECLAIM.  The bill was just passed out of committee and will be heading to the House floor.  There are, however, some problems.

The National Mining Association (NMA) has recently come out in opposition to this bill. “The most recent proposals would accelerate the distribution of the Fund balance to promote economic diversification and development. Such proposals would take the Fund beyond its purpose and well beyond the competency of OSM [the Office of Surface Mining] and its state agency counterparts,” says Hal Quinn, President, and CEO of NMA.  

Take Action: Call your legislators to show support for H.R.1731 and the Beyer Amendment.  Ask as many questions about the bill as you want, and let them know that you want the best option for reclaiming the brownfields in Pennsylvania.

Longwall Mining Bill Passes in PA House, Awaits Decision from Gov. Wolf

Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, June 26, 2017

CONTACT

Veronica Coptis, 724-833-8624, veronica@coalfieldjustice.org

Emily Pomilio, 202-395-3041, emily.pomilio@sierraclub.org

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Bill Threatens to Harm PA Streams and State Park

Harrisburg, PA--The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed SB 624 today, which creates an exemption to an 80-year-old law that protects streams and water supplies. The bill would allow mining companies to predictably damage or pollute streams based on a promise to clean them up later, instead of preventing the damage in the first place. The version passed by the Senate would have applied retroactively to permits that were the subject of an appeal and heard by the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) after June 30, 2016, an apparent reference to a permit issued to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) for the expansion of its Bailey Mine.

This version of the bill was amended to apply retroactively to all permits issued since 2005 meaning it will go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, which will likely take place tomorrow. Governor Wolf, who will receive the bill tomorrow, has said he opposes the measure but has not mentioned whether he plans to veto it. The House vote was 120-77 which is not enough YES votes to override a veto.

Introduced by Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) two weeks after receiving a $5k donation from Consol, SB 624 is a direct response to a question currently pending before the EHB as to whether Consol can legally mine underneath and around Ryerson Station State Park and predictably damage the streams that flow through the area.

In a statement, Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice and Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club said:

“We saw it in the Senate and now we’re seeing it in the House. Protecting campaign contributions is more important than protecting our streams and public lands. If Governor Wolf doesn’t veto this bill, he will send a signal to all fossil fuel companies that corporate needs come before the people’s constitutional rights,” Coptis said. “Thank you to the 15 Republicans who voted with their conscience to oppose SB 624, and stand with coalfield communities’ right to healthy streams.”

“It’s time for Governor Wolf to step up, veto this bill and stop Consol from destroying our public lands. It’s extremely disappointing that so many elected officials are willing to allow destructive mining practices for no reason other than padding corporate profits,” Schuster said. “Public parks and streams should be a constitutional right to all who live in this state, not a privilege to be revoked by a fossil fuel company. Governor Wolf, separate yourself from this corporate greed and veto this egregious bill.”

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The New Yorker: The Future of Coal Country

Bailey Mine Prep Plant (Photo Credit: CCJ)

Bailey Mine Prep Plant (Photo Credit: CCJ)

By Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker

One Sunday morning, just after deer-hunting season ended, Veronica Coptis, a community organizer in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania, climbed onto her father’s four-wheeler. She set off for a ridge a quarter of a mile from her parents’ small farmhouse, where she was brought up with her brother and two sisters. “Those are coyote tracks,” she called over the engine noise, pointing down at a set of fresh paw prints.

At the crest of the ridge, she stopped along a dirt track and scanned in both directions for security guards. Around her stretched a three-mile wasteland of valleys. Once an untouched landscape of white oak and shagbark hickory, it now belonged to Consol Energy and served as the refuse area for the Bailey Mine Complex, the largest underground coal mine in the United States.

Read full story at the New Yorker

Observer-Reporter: DRYerson Festival to Highlight Stream Preservation at Ryerson

Iron Bridge Area of Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Iron Bridge Area of Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

By C.R. Nelson, Observer-Reporter

WIND RIDGE – The Center for Coalfield Justice will host its 11th annual DRYerson Festival Saturday as it continues to look toward a new vision for Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County.

This yearly picnic, which will run from 1 to 4 p.m. at Pavilion No. 1, will harken back to the fun families enjoyed at the 1,164-acre state park before Duke Lake was drained in 2005 after undermining near the area damaged the lake’s concrete dam.

The park opened in 1960, with the lake being an integral attraction, CCJ executive director Veronica Coptis said, but now the group is working to save the remaining springs and streams from further damage from longwall mining.

Coptis said the group is raising concerns about Senate Bill 624, which would give coal-mining companies more leeway before undermining streams near the park. She said CCJ’s goal is to demonstrate to elected officials that they will “not let our park be destroyed for private profit anymore.”

“Our community has been coming together for more than 10 years, and it’s becoming clear that we are winning,” Coptis said.

Read full article at Observer-Reporter