Pennsylvanians Respond to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's Visit to Greene County Mine

Following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s visit to a local coal mine, the Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club Beyond Coal hosted a press conference where Pennsylvanians gathered to criticize Pruitt's efforts to put polluter profits ahead of communities health and environment.

Speakers criticized Administrator Pruitt and his “back-to-basics” plan for EPA, which he introduced at a visit to Consol Energy’s Harvey Mine. Speakers said it amounted to little more than a plan to take away lifesaving environmental and public health protections and permit unlimited pollution from fossil fuel companies. Randy Francisco, Organizer with Sierra Club Beyond Coal stated, "When Administrator Pruitt says he wants to get the EPA “back-to-basics” we all know he wants to send the agency back to the days before the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, laws which have protected Pennsylvania families from harmful pollution for decades. And to launch his polluter-friendly agenda, Pruitt choose a mine that was fined $3 million for Clean Water Act violations just last year.” 

Pruitt’s visit comes on the heels of the President’s ‘dirty energy’ executive order, which aimed to roll back pollution limits like the Clean Power Plan (CPP), and as the President calls for a 30 percent cut to the EPA’s budget, including enforcement activities and mine cleanup. Veronica Coptis, Executive Director, Center for Coalfield Justice said, “If Administrator Pruitt cares about the coalfields, he would help rebuild our local economy for the long term, as programs in the CPP would have done. Interfering with pending rules and removing existing standards will not save the coal industry and will only limit resources for worker retraining and economic diversity, all while killing our streams and degrading the places our families enjoy.” 

Speakers concluded by committing to hold the Trump Administration and Administrator Pruitt accountable for protecting public health and promoting, not restraining, the growth of Pennsylvania’s strong, clean energy economy. Sarah Grugas, a student organizer with the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition said, “EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is risking my future for polluter profits. Rolling back regulations will only accelerate climate destructions and threaten my ability to live the American dream. My generation won’t stand for it; we are committed to protecting our future.” 

Watch the live stream here:

PA DEP Environmental Justice Listening Tour: A Guide to Current EJ Rules and Potential Changes

 

by Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement, Fractracker Alliance
and Veronica Coptis, Executive Director

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be hosting a nine-stop “listening tour” to hear residents’ perspectives on environmental justice (EJ). These sessions begin in the western part of the state on April 12th and 13th. The dates and locations of these meetings can be found here. The DEP will also be accepting written comments, which can be either mailed or emailed to DEP-OEJ@pa.gov.

The EJ listening tour follows on the heels of events in May 2016, when environmental advocacy groups questioned the well pad siting practices oil and gas drilling company Range Resources, causing the DEP to announce it would revisit its EJ policies. Such changes would include reassessing how EJ zones are designated and what kinds of development triggers additional scrutiny by the DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice. We wrote about this story, and detailed how present EJ rules fail to account for oil and gas development in June 2016.

The following guide is meant to provide helpful information to residents in preparing for the listening tour. We first offer a summary of PA’s present EJ policies, followed by a commentary on what gaps we believe exist in those policies, and conclude with some reflections on EJ policies in other U.S. states and what we might learn from them in reassessing our own state’s EJ laws.

Listening Sessions Format

Each environmental justice listening tour will include opening remarks from Acting Secretary McDonnell, followed by a brief presentation from the Office of Environmental Justice, and then will open to receive testimony from the public. Verbal testimony is limited to 3 minutes for each witness. Organizations are asked to designate one witness to present testimony on their behalf. Verbal comments will be recorded by a court stenographer, and transcripts will be made available to the public at a later date.

The DEP Office of Environmental Justice has offered a set of eight questions to guide comments in the listening tour sessions. They are as follows:

1.  What environmental justice concerns are most pressing in your community?

2.  Do you feel that the current definition of an environmental justice community (20% poverty and/or 30% minority) properly represents the needs of your community and the Commonwealth at large?

3.  Do you feel the DEP is engaged with marginalized communities to ensure that they have a voice in the decision making process? How can the DEP be more engaged with these communities?

4.  What tools have you used to find out information on DEP permitting/enforcement actions?

5.  What ways can the DEP be more effective at sharing information with the public?

6.  How can the DEP be more effective at receiving public input?

7.  What resource(s) is your community lacking that the DEP can provide that would assist in efforts to ensure environmental equity?

8.  What additional steps can be taken by the Department to effectively reach out to these vulnerable communities to ensure that their concerns are taken into consideration?

 Summary of Existing EJ Policies

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This same definition is used by the DEP.

In 2004, the DEP codified this EJ definition in the Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy. EJ designations are defined by the DEP as any census tract where 20% or more of the population lives in poverty and/or 30% or more of the population identifies as a minority. Designations are based on the U.S. Census Bureau and by the federal poverty guidelines.

Below is a map of current EJ designated census tracts in PA that also shows the counties where listening tour sessions will be held. When zoomed in to regional scale, EJ areas can be clicked to see their current poverty and minority percentages. The locations of oil and gas wells and permits are also visible at the regional scale.

Map of current EJ areas (based on 2015 census data)

Of note in the 2004 policy are the kinds of permits that trigger a potential EJ review – specifically: industrial wastewater facilities, air permits for new major source of hazardous air pollution, waste permits for landfills and incinerators, coal mining permits and coal refuse facilities, and/or concentrated animal feeding operations. The policy also allows for review of “opt-in permits” the DEP believes warrant special consideration, but we have found no evidence to suggest that this option has been historically used.

When a project triggers EJ review, the DEP “strongly encourages” the applicant meets with community stakeholders prior to submitting their permit, with the idea that additional public outreach makes project details more apparent. The applicant is also encouraged to produce “plain language” information sheets, online and in print form, regarding the proposed activity.

Issues with Existing PA EJ Policies

A complete list of what may occur when a project triggers EJ review can be found here

Click here to access a table breaking down the EJ Policies and areas that need to be addressed.

Reflections on other states’ EJ policies

 States that use poverty and race indicators differently:

  •  Connecticut: Uses income below 200% of the federal poverty level (“working poor”).
  • Illinois: indicates low-income and/or minority population as being “greater than twice the statewide average.”
  • Massachusetts: Defines by census “block group” rather than census tract, which can identify pocket EJ areas that might be lost in larger census tracts.
  • Texas: For income indicator, uses census block group and income below 200% of the federal poverty level.

States that go beyond poverty and race indicators:

  • California: Considers existing disproportionate environmental burden. Also, demographics include “low levels of homeownership, high rent burden…or low levels of educational attainment.”
  • Connecticut: includes a “distressed community” indicator, defined as whether it is eligible for HUD grants, or experienced layoffs/tax loss due to a major plant closing.
  • Georgia: includes language for elderly and disabled populations “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) encourages the involvement of people with disabilities in the development and improvement of transportation and paratransit plans and services.”
  • Massachusetts: Uses linguistic isolation, defined as “25% or more of households having no one over the age of 14 who speaks English only, or very well.”
  • New Jersey: Communities can file a petition to be recognized as a vulnerable.

Example of better public participation affordances:

  • New Jersey: When a community is designated EJ, a task force is formed to develop a unique “Action Plan” after consultation with residents, local, and county government, that will address environmental, social and economic factors affecting their health or environment. This task force monitors Action Plan implementation, and advises development projects to reduce impacts.

Conclusions

Environmental justice rules came into existence in order to deal with the burdens of large polluting facilities like landfills, incinerators, and coal mines. Race and poverty measures are, without question, two very important indicators that have provided for the fair treatment of people of all races, income, and cultures in these instances. However, if we are to properly assess how residents are disproportionately impacted, other indicators of marginalization should be included. The Center for Coalfield Justice suggests a few in a report titled Community Indicators of Environmental Justice: A Baseline Report Focusing on Greene and Washington Counties, Pennsylvania.

Fair treatment in EJ communities should offer mechanisms for meaningful input that allow residents to shape the ultimate direction of proposed projects, as well. Finally, current EJ policies are very limited in only addressing future projects, whereas issues such as how disadvantaged communities, struggling with legacy problems such water, air, and soil pollution, are left to other agencies to deal with.

We encourage residents of Pennsylvania to attend an environmental justice listening tour session to share your perspectives, and how the DEP can better fulfill its mandates to protect vulnerable communities.

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Changes at CCJ

Dear Supporters,

I am writing to let you know that I am leaving my position as Executive Director at CCJ. I am incredibly proud of the work that we have accomplished over the last 5 years. Together, we have built power and amplified the voices of this community on issues around fossil fuel extraction and use in southwestern PA. I leave now knowing that we are strong, and that we will win. 

Leading the Center for Coalfield Justice has been among the greatest privileges of my life. It has been a true honor, and I thank you all for your time, dedication, and support. I am thrilled to announce that starting next week, Veronica Coptis will be our new Executive Director. I cannot think of anyone better positioned to lead CCJ, and I know you will all continue to do work to improve the quality of life for present and future residents of our region. 

I have accepted a job as Senior Campaign Representative for the Beyond Coal campaign of the Sierra Club, based out of Harrisburg, where I will be focusing on coal issues in and around the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. I will miss my friends and colleagues at CCJ a great deal, and I will miss working with many of you as often as I have been fortunate enough to do so. Although I will no longer be on staff at CCJ, I remain committed to its mission, and to all of the great work we are doing.

I wish I had the time to thank each of you individually. Please know that I appreciate all that you have given to CCJ during my time here. 

Thank you,
Patrick  

 

Join Our Team! We're Hiring a Community Organizer

Community Organizer Job Description

CCJ’s Community Organizer is responsible for engaging in community outreach and organizing activities, such as mobilizing members for meetings and hearings; organizing community outreach events; developing volunteer outreach plans, supervising activities and maintaining volunteer database; assisting in organizing and implementing publicity; coordinating outreach and distribute publications; providing leadership trainings for community members and ally groups; and representing CCJ at meetings as necessary.

The Community Organizer provides administrative, Board, and Director support in the following ways: implementation of strategic plan; general board development and support; managing special fundraising events; and assisting the Executive Director and other staff with organizational projects and campaigns.

Qualified candidates will have experience in community organizing and/or a Bachelor’s degree in a related field. Must be enthusiastic and self-motivated. Strong communication and writing skills required. Must work well under pressure and willing to work on nights and weekends.

The Center for Coalfield Justice is an equal opportunity employer. Compensation includes a comprehensive benefits package, healthcare, and salary commensurate with experience, and other nonprofit organizations of similar size, scope and mission.

Interested applicants should send a cover letter, resume with three references and writing sample to veronica@coalfieldjustice.org.

Environmental Hearing Board Protects Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park

Today, the Environmental Hearing Board issued CCJ and Sierra Club’s petition for supersedeas to protect Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park from mining. Read our press statement below:

Community Groups Praise Environmental Hearing Board for Protecting Ryerson Station State Park

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) has forbidden Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) from mining within 100 feet of Kent Run inside Ryerson Station State Park while it hears an ongoing appeal of the company’s controversial permit to expand its Bailey Mine. In December, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a permit revision that would allow Consol to perform extensive and destructive longwall mining beneath the surface of two streams - Polen Run and Kent Run - portions of which are within Ryerson Station. Consol’s previous permit required “development mining” under the streams, which is a process designed to prevent the land above the mine from subsiding. Before an appeal could even be filed, Consol undermined and damaged a section of Polen Run just outside the park boundary.

The permit revision filed by Consol predicted significant damage, notably subsidence and flow loss, to the streams in the park. Since Consol’s destruction of Duke Lake via mining activity over ten years ago, conservationists argue these two streams are some of the most important remaining water features in the park. The Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and the Sierra Club filed an appeal of the permit in December and asked the EHB to prevent damage to the park while the appeal was being considered.  Attorneys from CCJ and Appalachian Mountain Advocates are representing the groups in this matter. It is unusual for mining activity to be halted during an a permit appeal, but it is also unprecedented that this level of stream damage was permitted by a mine within a State Park.

In response, Patrick Grenter, Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice and Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for Pennsylvania at the Sierra Club  issued the following statements:

“We are thrilled that the Environmental Hearing Board halted destructive longwall mining underneath Kent Run inside of Ryerson Station State Park,” Grenter said. “Based on the hearing, it was clear Consol was intent on operating without any consideration for Ryerson or the thousands of local residents who use it every year. It is a shame that Governor Wolf forced us to do his job and defend the Commonwealth’s state park, but we are thankful to the hundreds of area residents who contributed to our successful efforts.”  

"Not only has the Environmental Hearing Board protected Kent Run from the destructive practice of longwall mining, it has also preserved a community space for all local residents to enjoy,” Schuster said. “Consol really has no one to blame but itself by assuming they would be allowed to freely mine in the park and illegally destroy the best remaining water sources. If they had followed their original mining plan we wouldn’t have had to file this petition.”

Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park 

Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park 

 

 

We Had a Court Hearing on Mining in Ryerson: Here’s What Happened

Chances are if you’re reading this message, you already know that the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club have been fighting for Ryerson Station State Park in front of the Environmental Hearing Board for many years now. After with the loss of Duke Lake in 2005, we have taken action time and time again to prevent Consol from destroying Ryerson.

Our latest fight involves the preservation of Kent Run, a stream inside the boundaries of Ryerson. Consol is seeking to mine underneath it, resulting in serious damage that would likely require years of high impact construction and clear-cutting to attempt remediation. Thankfully, in December, the judge hearing our case temporarily required that Consol stop mining at least 500 feet before they reach Kent Run until there was a hearing on our petition for supersedes, which would block Consol from mining under Kent Run until there was a decision on the legal and factual merits of our appeal. If you want some more background on how we reached this point, read here

In order to win our petition, we must prove that we will likely prevail on the factual and legal merits of our appeal and that the harm to our members, the public and the environment, and to Kent Run and its watershed outweighs any harm that Consol might suffer if it cannot longwall mine beneath Kent Run.

The hearing on our petition was held before Judge Beckman on January 10th, 11th and 12th in downtown Pittsburgh. At the hearing, we learned that Consol never planned to stop longwall mining before it reached Polen Run in the 3L panel. We also learned that Consol has done nothing to prepare to stop longwall mining 500 feet short of Kent Run since the EHB’s December 23, 2016 Order.  

This information will be important to remember in the event that we are successful in protecting Kent Run within Ryerson Station State Park. The fact of the matter is that Consol executives have had ample time to prepare for a variety of outcomes, and have done nothing. Rather, they are hurtling towards an uncertain future and choosing to do nothing to protect their employees, or community members. The executives will likely avoid paying a penalty for the risk they assumed, but I would bet we can all guess who they will try to pin it on. If Consol conducted its operations at the Bailey Lower East Expansion in a responsible manner, it could, safely protect and preserve Kent Run within Ryerson Station State Park while avoiding employee layoffs. Instead, Consol executives decided to do nothing, and that decision is theirs alone.

We’re Back in Court to Defend Ryerson

For years, we have been fighting side by side with the Sierra Club against Consol’s plans to illegally mine coal from underneath Ryerson Station State Park. There was a three week trial over the summer about this issue; ultimately deciding whether the state-permitted plan to destroy streams and “rebuild” them later was consistent with the Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania. We are eagerly awaiting the decision from the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board on that issue.

In the meantime, Consol has been getting closer and closer to Ryerson. In fact, we learned this fall that they were seeking permission from the Governor to mine underneath and inside of Ryerson’s boundaries BEFORE we got a decision from the Environmental Hearing Board as to whether this was even legal. On December 13, we learned that the Wolf Administration approved this illegal plan. Within days, we assembled a team of lawyers and experts and filed for a supersedes, or an injunction, to force Consol to immediately stop mining before they reached Polen and Kent Run.

We were infuriated to learn that DEP had issued the permit in such a way to avoid this very type of legal action; even though we had filed as fast as possible, by the time the Judge conducted his first conference call of the parties, we learned that Polen Run had already been destroyed. Thankfully, the Judge put into place an order that prohibited Consol from mining within 500 feet of Kent Run until after he’d conducted a hearing about the issues.

That hearing is scheduled for next week, from Tuesday through Friday in downtown Pittsburgh. At the hearing, we will present evidence about the damage done to streams by longwall mining, and highlight the many options available to Consol to avoid this damage that they have so far refused to do.

This is a great opportunity for our members to show the Judge that they care about Ryerson Station State Park. Join us, be present, and show your support for a preserved and healthy Ryerson.

The trial starts on Tuesday, January 10, at 9:30 AM at the Environmental Hearing Board’s Pittsburgh Facility, Hearing Room 2014, Piatt Place, 301 5th Avenue. It is scheduled to continue through the 13th. If you want more information on the hearing or ride sharing, please call 724-229-3550 or email Veronica at veronica@coalfieldjustice.org.  

Thanks for your support and we look forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh.

 

 

Community Groups File Appeal of Mine Threatening State Park

Greene County, PA--The Sierra Club and Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) filed an appeal of a permit issued by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that would allow Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to mine underneath Ryerson Station State Park, damaging the streams that flow through the area. The groups are asking the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) to halt mining in the park while the appeal is being considered. The appeal comes after the DEP issued a permit to Consol last week allowing the company to perform extensive and destructive longwall mining beneath the surface of two streams - Polen Run and Kent Run - portions of which are within the Park. The permit was issued despite the fact that the application filed by Consol predicts significant damage, notably subsidence and flow loss, to these streams. Since Consol’s destruction of Duke Lake via mining activity nearly ten years ago conservationists argue these two streams are some of the most important remaining water features and fishing spots in the park.

“We’re asking the EHB to halt all mining by Consol within the park until it has a chance to review the permit appeal. By issuing this permit and allowing Consol to utilize longwall mining beneath these streams, DEP is actively allowing a private company to destroy a public park for profit and diminish the very small amount of running water we have left since the company’s previous mining activities resulted in the loss of Duke Lake,” Patrick Grenter, Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice said. “This area in Greene County is a state-designated environmental justice area and Ryerson is the only state park in Pennsylvania easily accessible to this community. With the lake gone and now the near-certainty of damaging these streams, what recreational opportunities will this community have? We hope the Board will step up where the DEP and Governor Wolf have failed and stop the destruction of this public property.”

The activity authorized by this new permit is predicted to result in flow loss that would prevent aquatic life, like fish, salamanders, frogs, and macroinvertebrates (such as mayflies, dragonflies, and other insects that live in streams) from surviving in the streams. Thousands of fish have died from mining at this Consol complex in the past and thousands of future memories and experiences have been stolen from visitors of Ryerson Station State Park.

“The Wolf Administration’s decision to issue this permit runs counter to its obligations under Pennsylvania’s Constitution, which promises all of us, as well as future generations, the right to pure water, clean air and the preservation of the environment,” Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter said. “It is unconscionable that the only state park in a state-designated environmental justice community is being sacrificed for the temporary benefit of this one company. The state has allowed mining to begin as we contest the permit and already there has been subsidence-induced flow loss in Polen Run, which flows through Ryerson Station State Park. To date, we have lost hundreds of stream miles as a result of this mining and many more have been permanently degraded.”

In April, the Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club appealed another permit issued to Consol for mining activity that would result in reduced or eliminated flow in streams just outside the park, arguing that the mining activity will violate the Clean Streams Law and that the permit runs counter to DEP’s own coal mining regulations.

“Yet again, our state government has caved to pressure from Consol and failed to protect an environmental justice community from the company’s reckless operations,” Veronica Coptis, Deputy Director of Center for Coalfield Justice and resident of Greene County. “The Governor has placed the burden of defending the community’s only state park on the residents.”   

 

Case Update on our Fight for Ryerson Station State Park

Starting in 2014, we partnered with the Sierra Club to bring an appeal to a permit that authorized longwall coal mining that predicted severe stream impacts in and around Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County. At the heart of the appeal is whether Consol’s right to longwall mine trumps the protections set forth in the Clean Streams Law, the Department’s mining regulations, and Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

This matter finally went to trial this past August, before the Honorable Steven C. Beckman of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB). We presented nearly four days of evidence showing the flow loss and change of use in the streams due to Consol’s longwall mining. During examination of DEP and Consol witnesses, we learned that those parties agreed with us that when a stream suffers mining-induced flow loss, pooling or is dewatered during mitigation activities to repair subsidence damage, fish cannot survive and recreational uses of that stream are lost. We believe that this is illegal. 

On October 21, 2016, CCJ and Sierra Club filed their post-hearing brief. Consol and the Department must file their post-hearing response briefs by November 21, 2016. We then have the opportunity to reply to the arguments made by Consol and the Department in their respective response briefs. The deadline to file our reply brief is December 6, 2016.

We hope to receive a decision from the Environmental Hearing Board by the end of 2016 or in early January 2017.

We could not do this work without the continued support of our members and supporters. Unfortunately, this fight is far from over. Consol is again seeking permission from the DEP to undermine the portions of Polen Run and Kent Run that flow within Ryerson Station State Park. Please help us continue our work to protect these streams by donating today. Your contribution gives us the funding we need to protect Ryerson Station State Park and the surrounding area for fish, wildlife, and people alike.

Statement from CCJ

These days, and the electoral process in general, have proven distressing and turbulent for many people in our community. The Center for Coalfield Justice is a safe place for all. If you feel unsafe, anxious, or in need of support, please come visit us at our office. We will continue our fight for justice in the coalfields, and we will do it together.