Environmental Hearing Board Overturns Permit for Destructive Mining Upstream of Ryerson Station State Park

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Greene County, PA--The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) rejected a revised underground longwall mining permit issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2015 that allowed Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to cause extensive damage to a stream called Polen Run, which flows into Ryerson Station Station State Park.

“We greatly appreciate all of the time that the Board spent on this matter,” Sarah Winner, who represented Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club in the appeals, said. “The Board’s decision provides important clarification about the protections afforded to Pennsylvania streams in the context of longwall coal mining.”

The EHB concurred with two community groups, the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and the Sierra Club, that Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow the DEP to permit mining that is predicted to damage a stream so severely that the only way to “fix” the damage is to construct a new stream in its place.

“We’re thrilled that the EHB has agreed with us that it is illegal to allow a company to destroy streams for the sake of increasing profit. This ruling has put the industry and the DEP on notice that it must do a better job of developing mining plans to protect streams,” Veronica Coptis at the Center for Coalfield Justice said. “We are thankful to the hundreds of area residents who contributed to our successful efforts and remain committed to protecting the streams within Ryerson Station State Park.”

"The EHB set a precedent today that it will protect streams throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. This is a victory for the rule of law and for local folks who have had to suffer the consequences of irresponsible mining practices for too long. Time and again mining companies have proven that putting a stream back together after breaking it is easier said than done,” Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for Pennsylvania at the Sierra Club said. “Now the industry will have to comply with the environmental laws and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and prevent extensive damage in the first place. They can no longer sacrifice community resources for corporate greed.”

CCJ and Sierra Club were also represented by Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services.

 

Make a donation today to support the ongoing fight for streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park.  

Share your stories!

CCJ Staff and Board members enjoy a water balloon fight at Ryerson

CCJ Staff and Board members enjoy a water balloon fight at Ryerson

Governor Tom Wolf and our state legislators have cut protections for streams in Ryerson Station State Park, but the fight to protect the Park is not over. We will work to prevent Consol from profiting by destroying our only state park in Greene County.  We love Ryerson, and it belongs to all of us - not an outside corporation. Ryerson has impacted so many of our lives and inspired so many stories we look back on with fondness.

We want to hear those stories. Tell us your favorite memory from Ryerson, or let us know what activities you do there. What does the Park mean to you?

CCJ will compile these stories into one place to be shared with our community to remind ourselves that we’re all united in the same cause and with local policymakers to remind them that we are not going anywhere.

To share your stories, use this link: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/ryseron-stories 

Send us a photo if you can by emailing smartik@coalfieldjustice.org with your name in the title.

Welcome back, Sarah!

Sarah Grguras, who interned with CCJ last summer, is now a junior at the University of Pittsburgh dual-majoring in environmental studies and ecology. Sarah has continued to stay in close contact with CCJ. She has also continued to stay heavily involved in the environmental club on Pitt's campus, such as Free the Planet and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. This summer she is working for Citiparks on their roving art cart as a way to get to know Pittsburgh, its parks, and the community better. She is also working for Clean Water Action as a phone canvasser and has been calling on the issue of the Clean Water Rule. In addition to those two jobs, she is also working as the Sustainability Program Assistant, which helps to create sustainable environmental change at the University of Pittsburgh. In-between these 3 jobs, Sarah will be doing research for CCJ as our research fellow, focusing heavily on a virtual Frontline Community Tour project and its effects on student activism by comparing surveys before and after this virtual tour, and before and after an in-person tour. Sarah is excited to strengthen her relationship with CCJ through this research project.

Welcome aboard, Emma!

Please join us in welcoming our new summer organizing intern, Emma Washa! Emma is a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Communications and Political Science. Along with gardening, cooking, and spending time with her friends and family, her passions lie in environmental justice and community outreach. Upon participating in a CCJ Frontline Community Tour in 2015, Emma became inspired to become more involved in environmental organizations at Pitt, and is now excited to continue her work in Western PA to advocate for community empowerment in the communities directly impacted by fossil fuel extraction. During her time with CCJ, Emma hopes to learn more about how she can act as a resource to communities who are resisting the fossil fuel industry.

Legal Update on Protecting Streams in Ryerson

Our permit appeals before the Environmental Hearing Board are moving forward. The most recent updates are below.  

Permit Revision No. 204

Permit Revision No. 204 authorizing longwall mining beneath Kent Run and Polen Run in the 3L panel of the Bailey Lower East Expansion. This portion of Kent Run flows within Ryerson Station State Park. In January we successfully petitioned for a supersedeas that prohibited Consol from conducting longwall mining beneath Kent Run while the appeal is pending.  

On June 9, 2017, Consol filed a Motion to Dismiss in our appeal of Permit Revision No. 204 before the Environmental Hearing Board. On June 23, 2017, the Department of Environmental Protection joined Consol’s motion.  

On July 10, 2017, CCJ and Sierra Club filed a response to Consol’s motion, a response to the Department’s motion, and a memorandum of law in opposition to the motions.

On Friday, July 28, 2017, Judge Beckman issued an opinion and order denying the motions to dismiss.

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017 the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dismissed Consol's appeal of the Environmental Hearing Board's supersedes order. 

Consolidated Appeal of Permit Revisions 180 and 189

Permit Revisions 180 authorized longwall mining at the Bailey Lower East Expansion but did not authorize longwall mining beneath two streams, Kent Run and Polen Run. Permit Revision No. 189 authorized longwall mining and post-mining streambed lining in Polen Run above the 1L and 2L panels of the Bailey Lower East Expansion. CCJ and Sierra Club appealed both permits to the Environmental Hearing Board. The Board held a hearing on the merits of our appeals in August 2016.  

On July 12, 2017, CCJ and Sierra Club filed a supplemental brief addressing the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (10 MAP 2015) including the impact of that decision to our Article I, Section 27 claim. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the text of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I, Section 27) and the underlying principles of Pennsylvania trust law provide the appropriate standard for judicial review when examining challenges to the constitutionality of Commonwealth agency actions.

On July 21, 2017, Governor Wolf allowed Senate Bill No. 624 to pass into law. The amendments to the Mine Subsidence Act are now known as Act 32 of 2017. On August 8, 2017, CCJ and Sierra Club intend to file another supplemental brief addressing the impact of the amendments to our pending permit appeals.

We anticipate a final decision this summer.

Protect Streams in Ryerson Station State Park from Coal Mining

Consol Energy's Bailey Mine destroyed Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park over ten years ago, and it will never be restored. Ryerson Station State Park is the only state park in Greene County, PA. Now Consol wants to get authorization from the state to undermine more of our water resources, putting in jeopardy the last remaining fishing opportunities in the State Park. Polen Run above the 4L and 5L Panels of the Bailey Lower East Expansion is located in the State Park. Consol predicts that longwall mining will cause total flow loss within the stream. Subsidence induced-flow loss and post-mining stream remediation efforts will eliminate recreational and aquatic life uses of Polen Run within the Park. Our community has sacrificed enough for Consol's private profits, and it is time the DEP and Governor Tom Wolf stand with environmental justice communities and stand by the constitution to protect our natural resources. Sign the petition below demanding the DEP deny the pending application and protect the streams in Ryerson Station State Park.

Governor Wolf Allows Senate Longwall Mining Bill to Pass into Law New Law Will Allow Companies to Destroy PA Streams and State Park

Harrisburg, PA--Governor Wolf allowed Senate Bill 624 to pass into law today. The bill creates an exemption to an 80-year-old law that protects streams and water supplies and will 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. Additionally, a portion of the bill stated that the act would have retroactively applied to permits dating back to October 8, 2005, including those that were subject of a pending appeal before the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) brought by the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club.

Introduced by Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) two weeks after receiving a $5k donation from Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol), SB 624 was 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 knowingly damage the streams that flow through the area. The new law will now directly impact issues under consideration by the EHB and allow Consol to destroy the remaining streams in the park.

The bill passed the Senate and the House with bipartisan opposition.

In a statement, Veronica Coptis, Executive Director at the Center for Coalfield Justice,  Joanne Kilgour, Pennsylvania Chapter Director for the Sierra Club and Sarah Winner, Staff Attorney at the Center for Coalfield Justice said:

“Governor Tom Wolf supported legislation that sacrificed the constitutional rights of his constituents for Consol’s private gain,” Coptis said. “Governor Wolf, you have failed as a progressive leader and allowed an environmental justice community that has already been damaged by corporate greed, to suffer another blow, destroying our already compromised public park and any future economic opportunities.”

“Governor Wolf, you have made it clear where your priorities lie and it’s not with the people, with local communities or with the environment. You have signaled to corporations that they can blatantly disregard the law if they line politician’s pockets,” Kilgour said. “Thank you to the Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle that stood with Greene County and all future communities that will be devastated by this atrocious law - it is a shame that the Governor did not stand with you.”

“We believe the amendments are unconstitutional and we are evaluating all of our options to take action to protect Pennsylvanians’ environmental rights,” Winner said.

Support the fight to protect Pennsylvanians' environmental rights by making a targeting dontation here: 

https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/donate-to-protect-ryerson-station-state-park-from-coal-mining?source=direct_link&

 

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."