Black Lung Disability Fund in Jeopardy unless Congress Acts

 Photo sourced from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/black-lung-disease-is-making-a-comeback-among-appalachian-miners/

Photo sourced from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/black-lung-disease-is-making-a-comeback-among-appalachian-miners/

Rates of Black Lung disease are on the rise in coal communities across Appalachia, but Congress is set to allow Black Lung Disability benefits to be jeopardized.  Congress has failed to pass an extension of current funding levels, but some members are fervently working to pass this extension as part of an appropriations bill up for a vote on December 21st. Congress must act to protect miners and pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.

Write a letter to your members of Congress today telling them to pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax before the holidays.

Black Lung, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling hazardous coal dust.  Companies that operate today pay for benefits for miners who suffer from Black Lung, but, when coal companies file for bankruptcy, miners are left without funds to cover the treatment for this horrible disease. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was designed to fill that gap: it places a small tax on each ton of coal produced, and that money is used to help struggling miners. However, in 2017 alone, more than 2,500 claims were transferred to the Trust Fund due to coal company bankruptcies. This important Trust Fund has been struggling to remain solvent as more people need assistance due to rising rates of Black Lung - and the situation is about to get worse in 2019 when the tax rate is scheduled to fall unless Congress acts now.

The Trust Fund has run at a horrible deficit since its inception and having the rates coal companies pay into the Trust Fund lowered will only drive this deficit up even higher and will continue to be a burden on taxpayers.  Coal companies should be paying more into this Trust Fund, not less. It is their work environments that can cause this disease, and more often than not, when a Coal Company goes bankrupt it will simply change its name and go back to mining operations under a different company name.  Coal companies, as a whole, would save roughly 3 million dollars a week if this bill extension does not happen.  That is 3 million more dollars a week that taxpayers would have to endure on behalf of the coal industry.

Please send a letter telling your members of Congress to pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax with the appropriations bill before the holidays.


CCJ: A Year in Review

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As we enter this holiday season, please consider a year-end gift to the Center for Coalfield Justice to support our work in 2019. This past year has been continued growth full of investment in leadership at the local level. Starting with adding three new members to our staff that are all from the local communities we serve.

More exciting this year, we hosted a Peoples Climate, Job, and Justice March in downtown Washington, PA. Over 70 from our local community attended, which shows that people in small towns and rural communities want healthy communities and a thriving economy. We can have both.

CCJ has also committed to addressing the petrochemical buildout in the region by working with impacted communities and coordinating our efforts with other organizations.  Recently, we hosted a Grassroots Organizing Summit where over 60 people from across the tri-state region attended to strengthen relationships, learn from each other, and root our movement in trust among each other.

A few other 2018 highlights include:

  • Continued legal pressure to protect streams in Ryerson Station State Park

  • Advocated for renewing black lung fund and passing the reclaim act in Washington, DC.

  • Organized two actions in Pittsburgh challenging and raising awareness about the proposed petrochemical expansion in our region.

  • Mobilized residents to engage in Greene County’s Draft Comprehensive Planning Process.

  • Hosted over 5 community events with over 200 people attending.  

  • Submitted over a dozen comments on permits and regulations.

  • Provided over 30 Fracking in the Coalfield Tours.

Our work is only possible because of donation and support from you. Your donation will support our continued growth and our outreach in the communities in which we live, work and recreate. We plan to host more regular membership meetings, build volunteer teams to address the issues impacting people and uplift rural voices and experiences into statewide and national movements. Please make a donation today to help us achieve these goals in 2019.

Thanks,

Veronica, the Sarahs, Nick, Lisa, and our Board of Directors



Welcome Lisa

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Lisa (Coffield) DePaoli joined the staff as Outreach Coordinator in December 2018. She grew up in rural Washington County and has always loved animals and spending time outdoors. Her deep interest in human beings and ecology led her to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked on research projects and taught at the university level in the U.S. and in field schools in Latin America. The knowledge and experience she gained fostered an interest in environmental and social justice issues. Thus, she has decided to work on issues of humans and ecology at the local level in order to research and address important matters in southwestern Pennsylvania. Lisa loves to talk to people about issues that concern them. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, furkids and friends, and taking long walks in the woods with her dogs.


There’s No Place Like CCJ for the Holidays!

Join the Center for Coalfield Justice and Washington County United for our Ho-Ho-Holiday Party on December 11th from 6 PM to 8 PM at our new office on 14 E Beau St, Washington, PA 15301. We look forward to having a jolly good time with our supporters and allies!

Don’t miss the fun and RSVP now

The staff are making their best dishes to share, and we encourage you to bring your favorite holiday dish to share with our community. Don’t forget to wear your ugliest sweater for the chance to win a rockin’ prize. If you’re still not sure, feel like a kid again (and bring your kids to the party, too!) at our sugar cooking decorating table!

RSVP today and enjoy the festivities on Tuesday

 Ugly Sweater Contest Prize: CCJ tshirt and clean kanteen mug, peppermint chocolate, portable power pack, holiday coozie, and Bah Hum Bug gift bag.

Ugly Sweater Contest Prize: CCJ tshirt and clean kanteen mug, peppermint chocolate, portable power pack, holiday coozie, and Bah Hum Bug gift bag.

Relationships are the foundation for a Just Economic Transition

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November 7th to 9th the Just Transition Fund Hosted their National Convening with grantees and speakers in Washington, DC. Folks gathered from across the country just after the elections celebrating some great wins and still aware of the work that is ahead to build just and sustainable communities. From listening to speakers and talking with attendees it is clear that all of our efforts to create communities where everyone has a living wage and is welcomed in their communities will be a challenging road ahead but everyone I connected with had inspiring stories to keep us moving forward.

Throughout the event, we learned from peoples’ experience on what has worked and what has not worked. Time was provided for us to build relationships together and see where each organization’s work intersects to increase the impact others organizations may have on their work. For example, talking with folks at Coalfield Development in West Virginia, I learned that they started their economic work improving homes in need of repair and that transition can spark from just making our community more attractable.  Last, we had some hands-on workshops on sharing our stories and how to influence the federal budget to apply skills back in our communities. I am really looking forward to using the drama triangle from Center for Story-Based Strategy.


Overall, one recurring theme kept arising in every presentation whether it was talking about working with labor, building political will, or economic development—it all boiled down to the strength of relationships. How strong our communities and movement will be going forward will be based on the relationships we can lay as foundations and the trust we can build to create truly just communities.


Residents in Footprint of Tunnel Ridge Learn Proactive Steps to Protect Homes and Water Supplies

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The Center for Coalfield Justice along with friends from the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association held an “Undermining for Residents Workshop” at the Donegal Township Municipal Building in the evening on Wednesday 14, 2018 and nearly forty (40) people attend.

Tunnel Ridge LLC has been permitted to longwall mine a swath of coal underneath an area of West Alexander, and residents are concerned about what may happen to their water supplies and structures, such as their houses and farm buildings, after being undermined.  CCJ’s staff attorney Sarah Winner helped describe steps for residents to take that can help them protect their water sources and structures on their property.

Community members were engaged, asked questions and talked amongst themselves in hopes to better understand what the potential impacts of being undermined are and how they can ensure that Tunnel Ridge LLC is held responsible for any post-mining damages to their property and water supplies due to ground subsidence, which is the caving in of the ground after the coal seam is removed.    

If you have any questions or would like any information regarding the Tunnel Ridge longwall mine expansion into West Finley and Donegal Townships, please contact Nick at the Center for Coalfield Justice at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 extension 104.  The Buffalo Creek Watershed Association can also be contacted at info@buffalocreekwatershed.org.


EJ Groups Gather to Discuss Breaking Free From Plastics

CCJ attended a gathering in Pasadena, TX from November 5-7 to meet with other environmental justice groups working to fight against petrochemical expansions and buildouts. Our Campaign Manager, Sarah, attended the gathering, which brought together people from across the country, from the Gulf South to the West Coast.

CCJ previously attended a Break Free From Plastics gathering in Houston, but the consensus from that meeting was that environmental justice groups were not proportionally represented in the space, so groups like GAIA and TEJAS with support from Earthworks arranged this meeting. Groups like Portand Citizens United, 5 Gyres, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network attended the EJ gathering. Break Free From Plastics is a global coalition that raises awareness of plastics pollution and the connection between each stage of the plastics production process, from fracking to ocean dumping.

One theme that was constant throughout this gathering was that the same few players - Exxon, Shell, Formosa, etc - are seeking to rapidly expand. More than $200 billion in investments by 2025 will spur more than 300 new or expanded projects within the U.S. Almost all of these projects, though, are designed to support exports of natural gas liquids (NGLs) used for the production of plastics.

These investments, however, do not come without an Achilles heel. Awareness is growing around the climate crisis, and countries, cities, and corporations around the world are reconsidering their use of single-use plastics and of fossil-fuel-based plastics in general. Lego, for example, is testing to find recyclable and plant-based alternatives for its colorful blocks by 2030 and is changing its business practices to eliminate contributing to landfills by 2025 by eliminating the little plastic bags within its boxes. Industry consultants McKinsey & Company theorize that modest improvements in recycling and more efficiency in packaging will result in a decreased 2.3 million barrels per day of hydrocarbons, whether from oil or gas, being used in the petrochemical industry. Single-use plastic bans and recycling requirements in the European Union are crucial to ensuring that those modest targets are hit and provide leverage for them to be exceeded. While recycling is not a true “fix” to the plastics problem, the organizing efforts of groups to address the consequences of plastic are clearly catching on.


What can you do to help stop the petrochemical buildout in Appalachia and stand in solidarity with those groups battling it out in Texas and Louisiana? Join our petrochemical mailing list (different from our CCJ mailing list) to take action, or donate!

Protectors of Mingo Remain Active; Ramaco Permitting Process Continues

The Protectors of Mingo (POM), a community group in Washington County, continue to monitor the ongoing permitting process for the Ram #1 mine being proposed by Ramaco LLC, a mining company predominately based in the midwest. The proposed mine would be in Nottingham and Peters Townships near Mingo Creek County Park.

This campaign has been active for 6 years, with small wins along the way. Township officials met with residents years ago to place a set of restrictions on the mine designed to protect community members, drivers and their passengers through the area, and homeowners. Currently, POM are keeping an eye on developments in the permitting process. The California District Mining Office is considering Ramaco’s permit application and have issued numerous deficiency letters to the company. In response to the latest deficiency, Ramaco is testing to determine whether the old Mathies Mine - where they plan to discharge their wastewater - is capable of handling such a discharge. The results from that test are expected by the end of November 2018, at which point POM may have a better idea of whether a permit will or will not be issued - at this point, it is difficult to judge whether the Department will or will not grant a permit.


POM continues to meet monthly. If you are interested in attending a meeting, or if you want to know more about the campaign, please reach out to Sarah Martik at smartik@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550x1.

Love Is Stronger Than Hate

The Center for Coalfield Justice stands in solidarity with our neighbors in Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community, and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those whose lives were so abruptly taken by this horrific crime. We are grateful for the actions of first responders, and we are keeping all those still recovering in our hearts.

The massacre of our neighbors in a house of worship is terrifying and a stark reminder of the recent rise in anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and racism in our communities. From the hateful chants at the Charlottesville demonstration to the appeals to violence on websites and social media, the spread of this hate has been apparent in all of our communities. As a social justice organization committed to the belief that all people have an inherent right to a life free of systematic oppression, we urge our social and political leaders to actively fight against this hate and to denounce not just anti-semitism, but all forms of violence.

Further, we urge our leaders and residents to be vigilant in guarding against the use of public platforms to spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, and messages of violence. This tragedy has taught us once again that our words have power and influence, and that they must be treated accordingly. We must take a united stance against rhetoric and messaging that condones violence, retaliation, and oppression. We cannot remain silent when we witness hateful acts and the continuing polarization of our country. Today, we humbly recommit ourselves to offering words of justice, solidarity, and kinship. We hope that you will join us in remembering our duty to care for one another.

With love,

CCJ Board and Staff

 (Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP)

(Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP)



Demonstrations Impact Shale Insight Conference

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Concerned residents from throughout the Appalachian region gathered in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, October 23 and Wednesday, October 24 for two connected actions designed to counter the Shale Insight Conference.

Conference attendees arrived at Howl at the Moon, a Pittsburgh dueling piano bar, to a red carpet entrance and eight petrochemical zombies, each dressed up and personified a different problematic element of the petrochemical industry. One zombie, for example, carried a fishing pole that had fished a Coke bottle out of the water - a reference to the fact that in a recent Break Free From Plastics brand audit, Coke is 2018’s #1 polluter of beaches in the world. Another wore a necklace of K-cups around her neck, which speaks to the fact that our “reliance” on single-use plastics is an industry-conditioned initiative.

The next morning, the major day of action began at Point State Park with a native-led water ceremony. Participants in the ceremony bought water from upstream of their homes to be blessed, and the water was then put back. Following the ceremony, participants walked along Liberty Avenue, stopping at the EQT building so that a member of the SayNo2EQT Campaign could speak to the company’s clear efforts to buy goodwill within communities. The group continued on to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail outside of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for a rally, which highlighted indigenous land rights and protecting water for all people from the petrochemical buildout plans.

CCJ is excited to have participated in the planning for these actions, and honored to have our communities invited into the native communities’ sacred ceremony on Wednesday morning. The themes that all speakers explored - of leading with love, of being dedicated to protecting our water and air, and of joining together to support each other in struggle - were important to hear. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, to connect with new allies, and to doing work that protects our region across a range of issues.

 A petrochemical zombie walks Penn Ave. in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo: Sarah Martik

A petrochemical zombie walks Penn Ave. in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo: Sarah Martik