Register for Washington PA People's Climate, Jobs, and Justice March

On September 8, thousands of rallies will be held in cities and towns around the globe to demand a world with clean air and energy, healthy, family-sustaining jobs, and thriving communities that work for all of us.

The Center for Coalfield Justice and Washington County United are bringing these issue home in Washington, PA to demand our local officials take action on economic, environmental, and social justice starting at 10 AM downtown in Washington and concluding with a cookout.

Private companies and corrupt politicians have been benefiting off our community's resources and labor for too long. We can have a living wage, sustainable jobs that do not treat working-class families and families of color as disposable, but we need the political will to get there. If you are tired of not having access to quality jobs, education, and a healthy environment join us in the streets to demand action!

We can change the national narrative that the coalfields, small towns, and rural communities are happy with the status quo. Together we can create the change needed in our community.

Register to attend the march and stand up for justice in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Want to help with outreach, making art, or speak at the event contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org.

Environmental Justice Public Participation Draft Leave Out Oil and Gas Permits

The DEP Office of Environmental Justice has released a draft Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy, under the guidance of the Environmental Justice Advisory Board and with input from the Environmental Justice Listening Sessions. The draft Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy is open for public comments until August 28, 2018. While there are some improvements to the policy document, it does not go far enough to adequately ensure environmental justice communities will be heard in the permitting process.

In particular, the draft policy still leaves oil and gas permits off the trigger list to kickstart increased public participation. This demand was raised at every Environmental Justice Listening Sessions and should be added to the new public participation policy. In addition, DEP should use language requiring the applicants to follow this policy rather than merely encouraging them to do so.

Sign this petition supporting CCJ comments and demanding stronger EJ Public Participation Policy.

Registration Open for Grassroots Organizing Summit

Register now for the Grassroots Organizing Summit starting Friday, October 12th through Sunday, October 14th at the Laurelville Retreat Center in Mount Pleasant, PA.  The Summit seeks to connect community organizers across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia working on petrochemical, fracking, and fracked-gas infrastructure. The Summit also seeks to better prepare emerging organizers and to reinvigorate seasoned organizers to face the challenges presented by the shale gas and petrochemical buildout in the Appalachian region. The Summit will hold equity as a core value and emphasize three areas of collaboration: skill & knowledge building, organizing strategy, and relationship & trust building.

The planning committee for the Summit is made up of representatives from the following organizations: Center for Coalfield Justice, Mountain Watershed Association, Protect PT, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club Ohio Chapter, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and One Pennsylvania.

If you are interested in applying please take a look at this page.  We will accept applications on a rolling basis, but we cannot accept any applications later than Monday, September 17, 2018. Priority will be given to applicants from directly impacted communities and grassroots organizations. Childcare and scholarships for attendance & travel will be provided for all who request support.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Nick Hood (at 724-229-3550 ext. 104 or nick@coalfieldjustice.org).  We look forward to seeing you at the Summit!

 

Green in 18' Campaign

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The Center for Coalfield Justice has teamed with 25 other environmental groups around the state to prepare the Pennsylvania Common Conservation Agenda. The agenda consists of a series of sound, fiscally responsible actions the winner of the 2018 governor’s race can enact to protect PA’s environment and conserve our natural resources for generations to come.

It is going to take a lot of public support for the agenda to gain sufficient traction with the candidates and the public. That’s why the coalition has launched the Green in ’18 campaign.  This campaign will try to attract volunteers who will attend campaign events held by the gubernatorial candidate and ask them about environmental issues. This will increase the importance of the environment as a campaign issue, help voters learn about the candidates’ plans to protect and improve the state’s environment, and generate support for the agenda.

To support this campaign, please like Green in ‘18’s Facebook page and visit the Green in ’18 website and sign up to volunteer.  We also encourage you to share this info with your network.  It is time to Rise Up for a Healthy Environment.

CCJ Attends Public Hearing to Advocate for No Increased Discharges into Mon. River

In a room full of UMWA members and miners from Contura’s Cumberland mine, the Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing on the draft NPDES permit no. 033511, which would increase the permitted limits for sulfates and total dissolved solids (TDS) into the Monongahela River outfall 001 near Carmichaels, PA. CCJ Campaign Coordinator, Sarah, Community Organizer, Nick, and board members, Ken and Chuck, attended the event to stand up for common-sense permits.

At issue in this permitting decision is the fact that the Monongahela River was only recently considered to be recovered for sulfates. Now that it is no longer impaired, Cumberland Mine is seeking to increase the sulfates they can discharge into the river, pushing the river to 84% of its assimilative capacity - meaning that it is extremely close to the highest level it could safely take, a level that CCJ finds to be illegal and unreasonable. Unlike permits for new discharges, the mining company is seeking an increase in the level they may discharge, and workers testified at the public hearing that jobs would be on the line in this situation. However, the company is currently operating within the existing permit requirements without the threat of job loss. They also, according to permit documents, built a brand new water treatment facility for this outfall that they have never used in the past, yet they still have been in compliance with their existing permitted limits.

For those of our members and supporters who signed our petition asking the DEP not to authorize this permit, a copy was submitted with over 250 names attached to it. We expect to be contacted with a summary of the public hearing soon, and will keep you informed of any updates on this NPDES permit.

Miners’ Benefits in Jeopardy if Congress Does Not Act

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund has been around for about forty years, providing benefits to miners and, in some cases, to their surviving dependents to help them recover from the increasingly prevalent and powerful disease pneumoconiosis. “Black Lung Disease” was coined as a term because of the way the dust buildup inside the lungs can make them appear black. The Disability Fund has been in financial jeopardy for years, with expenditures consistently exceeding revenue, but the situation is about to become worse in 2019 when the excise tax that resources the Fund is set to decrease by 55% despite the fact that more than 25,000 people rely on its benefits as of 2017. Recently the cases of Black Lund have been increasing

Funding for the Fund comes from the Black Lung Benefits Revenue Act of 1977, which assesses a tax on operators per ton of coal mined. Not all miners are eligible for benefits: some operators cover expenses related to the disease, but others do not, and some operators are no longer is existence, leaving their former miners with bills to pay on their own. This is where the Fund kicks in. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO),”The current tax rates are $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal, up to 4.4 percent of the sales price. Therefore, if a ton of underground-mined coal is sold for less than $25, than the tax paid would be less than $1.10. For instance, if a ton of underground-mined coal sold for $20, than it would be taxed at 4.4 percent of the sales price, or $0.88” In some years, though, this income has covered less than 40% of the cost of the program, forcing it to borrow money from other funds, creating debt and resulting interest payments that take up even bigger chunks of its budget.

The same report by the GAO outlines various scenarios that would help maintain the Fund, ensuring that eligible miners who need its support are able to receive benefits. The proposal the Center for Coalfield Justice and our allies through the Alliance for Appalachia would support is an increase in the excise tax levied on mined coal by 25%. This increase would add $0.27 to the tax on underground-mined coal - literally spare change.

The Alliance for Appalachia is planning a trip to Washington DC in September to speak with senators and representatives from Kentucky to Pennsylvania, raising awareness and advocating for policies that would keep the Fund intact.


For more information on the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund or on the upcoming advocacy trip, please contact Sarah Martik, our Campaign Coordinator, at smartik@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550x.1.

Get Your Marching Shoes Ready!

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Save the Date for Washington, PA People’s Climate March on September 8th. We are hosting the march with Washington County United, increasing access for our communities to participate in a national day of action.  We will be rising for Climate, Jobs, and Justice and demanding that our elected officials are voting to protect our communities from private corporations’ greed.

If you live in Washington or Greene County, you are living on the front-lines of fossil fuel extraction and the climate debate.  It is time to challenge the national narrative and show that people from the coalfields want and deserve clean air, clean water, and healthy jobs.

It is exciting that Washington, PA will join others, from Miami to Minneapolis to Mendocino, on September 8th to demand climate action from our leaders!

We are looking for our members and supports to be involved in planning and outreach for this event, so please consider getting involved! This is a great opportunity for those of you who want to be more active in the work CCJ does, as well as for students who are looking for volunteer hours for school or college requirements. Want to get involved or  have questions or ideas to share? Please contact Nick at CCJ at nick@coalfieldjustice.org.

Residents Raise Concerns at Cabinet in your Community in Greensburg, PA

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A theater-full of residents from southwest Pennsylvania came together in the morning on Monday, July 30, 2018, for a Cabinet in your Community forum. This is an initiative from the Wolf Administration to ensure that the executive branch officials who are primarily centered in Harrisburg hear from communities across Pennsylvania to learn more about the issues that concern them. Residents are able to ask whatever questions are on their minds, although not all cabinet officials attend each event.

At this particular event, the Secretary who received the most questions was the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Patrick McDonnell, indicating that people in this region are truly concerned about our environment. Most, if not all, questions asked of Secretary McDonnell revolved around fracking, with some people questioning its effects on air pollution through methane leaks and others asking about whether the Secretary is up-to-date on the latest report put out by the Physicians for Social Responsibility detailing the health risks of unconventional oil and gas activity.

What was abundantly clear at this forum was the fact that residents want to engage with their public officials, but, more than that, they want their concerns to be sincerely heard and addressed, not explained away and politicized. When future events are scheduled in the area, we will advertise them in our newsletter, so please make sure you keep an eye on the “Upcoming Events” section of that!

Additional Discharges Possible into Mon. River from Cumberland Mine

 The Monongehela River near Carmichaels, PA

The Monongehela River near Carmichaels, PA

The Cumberland Mine is renewing their water discharge permit, and it will increase the amount of sulfate pollution into the Monongahela River, which is a major drinking water source for southwestern Pennsylvania. The discharge is located just a few miles upstream from the Carmichaels Water Authority drinking water intake. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing regarding the NPDES Water Quality Permit for the Cumberland Mine Coal Refuse Disposal Facility on August 9th, 2018 at the Greensboro VFD/Church Building, 384 Stoney Hill Road, Greensboro from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.  The nature of the public hearing is to solicit concerns and comments regarding the draft amended NPDES permit for the Cumberland Mine Coal Refuse Disposal Facility.

The Monongahela River is considered to be no longer impaired for sulfates, so the mine is increasing the amount of sulfates they will discharge into the river, without taking into consideration the other mine discharges in that area.

The site has three (3) NPDES outfalls located in Monongahela and Whiteley Townships, Greene County. We encourage you to attend the public hearing where Department representative will be available to receive written and verbal testimony regarding the draft NPDES permit. Testimony will be placed into public record for the draft NPDES permit and considered by Department staff in the review process.

If you have any other questions, concerns or comments please contact Nick at the Center for Coalfield Justice at (724) 229-3550 x4 or by email at nick@coalfieldjustice.org.

A Step in the Wrong Direction for California Borough

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Since the public hearing on Thursday, June 7, 2018, California Borough Council has discussed the new zoning ordinance at three different meetings. At the first, a general Council meeting, the ordinance was brought up, and we learned that there were two pages missing from the publicized draft. Discussion of provisions in Section 407 and 421 (the sections related to unconventional oil and gas development) was pushed back to the Thursday, July 6th working meeting.

The July 6th meeting was troubling. Some Councilmen and industry representatives are using the conditional use provision - where all unconventional oil and gas activity will be subject to a conditional use hearing - as an excuse for not establishing a protective ordinance.

  • Council has struck the provision that would require additional setback distances based on the horsepower of compressor stations, leaving only a 1500ft setback between a compressor and a protected structure.
  • One councilman, Mr. Mariscotti, is adamant that the distance between a well pad and a protected structure be measured from the wellbore as opposed to from the edge of the well pad. He also insists that 500ft is a sufficient distance.

  • As a “compromise” there is an idea to set setback distances of 600-750ft as measured from the wellbore. The next draft, though, will likely only include a 500ft setback as measured from the wellbore.

These changes give no consideration to the fact that setback distances mandated by the state of Pennsylvania were set for political reasons and ignore the current public health data about “safe” and “protective” requirements. When Council members ask questions like “What does the state say,” or “Is this something you [industry] can live with?” they are ignoring their obligations under Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to fully analyze their local situation.

This conversation was supposed continue on Thursday, July 12, but it was not. The issue was brought up under “Old Business” and the Council - at the advice of the solicitor - accepted changes and made plans to hold a second public hearing on Thursday, September 6, 2018. If you are concerned about these developments, please sign this petition - to be delivered at the second public hearing - voicing your concern and support for a protective ordinance.

As a resident of California Borough, this experience has been confounding. I have known most of the Council members for most of my life. Their kids played baseball with my brother, they worked in the concession stand every Friday night for football games, and they can be seen almost year round taking walks throughout the streets in town. They’re great people. It is clear to me, though, that there are some members of Council who cannot take their personal values - where they care deeply about their neighbors and believe in a sense of community - and extend them to what they view as “political” decision making. To me, this issue is not political. It’s not political when your neighbor’s kid develops asthma because a well pad was put too close to the school. It’s not political when your best friend’s well water is contaminated because of an underground leak no one could detect and no company willingly reported to the Department of Environmental Protection. It’s not political when there’s a real risk that a well pad or a pipeline could blow up and burn everything within a half-mile radius and beyond. I do not want to have to buy a ticket to a spaghetti dinner to benefit sick kids or a distraught family because some Council members and some vocal community members wanted to receive royalty checks.

The Borough’s committee and regular meetings (both open to the public) are regularly scheduled for the first and second Thursday each month. If this is an issue that concerns you, I encourage you to reach out to your council members by calling the Borough at 724-938-8878. Please reach out to me at 724-229-3550 or smartik@coalfieldjustice.org with any questions about the ordinance, the process, or ways to get involved!