A great party in the park!

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We’d like to extend a sincere THANK YOU to everyone who attended our 3rd Annual Fall Fundraiser: A Party in the Park. This party was an unprecedented success, with 100 people in attendance (and one case of wine depleted within the first half of the night).  Everyone enjoyed a pasta bar and cookie table, apple cider mocktails and adult beverages, and live music and dancing in front of two warm fires. Because of your attendance and support at our silent auction and 50/50 raffle, we were able to meet our fundraising goal for the evening, which will help us as we continue to grow our organization to take on the various challenges facing our communities. We’ve had tremendous successes in the recent past, and we are determined to continue on this path towards a healthy environment and economy for future generations.

We would be remiss not to mention the efforts of our volunteers who strung lights; who assisted with setup, registration, and cleanup; who ran the bar all night and made additional trips to the store for more supplies (really, wine - we’ll remember next year that CCJ supporters like their wine). There is no possible way we could have done this without you.

From Veronica and the Sarahs at CCJ, we hope you had a great time, we thank you for your support, and we hope to see you next year!

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A permitting update on coal mining around Ryerson

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Due to our recent legal win which made streambed lining illegal, Consol was forced to change their stream mitigation plan for proposed longwall mining under Polen Run. In response, on August 25th, Consol amended its pending permit revision seeking authorization for mining under Polen Run for the 4L and 5L panels of the Bailey Mine with a new stream mitigation plan that includes spraying the damaged streambed with a liquid plastic-type material to fill in cracks and attempt to fix predicted flow loss. In addition to being completely untested in streams, this is particularly concerning because the sections of Polen Run above these panels are inside Ryerson Station State Park. 

On September 1st Consol idled their longwall machine in the 4L panel of the Bailey Mine, citing “permit delays,” even though the Department of Environmental Protection only had about a week to review this new and untested proposal. As a result, mine workers were impacted by Consol’s decision to idle the mine. 

There was no justification for Consol to lay off anyone and the permit delay was created by Consol itself. Consol has had an approved permit to conduct mining in this area since 2014, in such a way that Polen Run would be preserved, and it could have followed that plan. Instead, they got greedy and tried to change the permit in a way that was more destructive and required less labor, and, therefore, was more profitably to the company. The Environmental Hearing Board ruled in August that the stream destruction predicted as a result of longwall mining beneath the upstream portion of Polen Run and the required restoration method were illegal. The DEP had only about a week to review the latest, unproven mitigation proposal from Consol so it is unfair and inaccurate to blame them for a so-called “delay.” Furthermore, this mitigation plan has never been done on streams and Consol is asking the state to allow them to experiment with an untested mitigation tactic in Greene County’s only state park. 

If Consol had followed their approved mining plan all along, there would be no need for layoffs or  last-minute adjustments and safety concerns. They could have also adjusted their operations to allow DEP a reasonable amount of time to review a completely novel proposal; instead, they did the opposite: they accelerated their pace of mining in a shameful attempt to force the state’s hand by exploiting  workers to line their pockets. The fact that Consol’s longwall machine was idled, and their impact to workers, is completely of their own doing.

The DEP is still reviewing Consol’s application for  the permit authorization to mine under Polen Run and Consol is moving the longwall machine from the 4L to the 5L panel. (A permit revision was issued on September 15th for the 5L panel that essentially fixed a mistake in the width of the panel.) The fact that DEP is conducting a thorough review of this permit — even under intense pressure from Consol — is the right thing to do and a result of our work to protect these streams and a positive step for the community. Consol has seemingly grown accustomed to getting its way by threatening to sue DEP simply for doing its job. Thankfully, we are closing the gap by using our own legal expertise to fight for our rights in the permitting process. We will continue the fight to protect the remaining streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park until there is no longer a threat of losing our streams for Consol’s private profits. 

 

CCJ in Daisytown, PA for lease-reading training

Ryan and attendees have a Q&A about unconventional oil and gas leases.

Ryan and attendees have a Q&A about unconventional oil and gas leases.

On Tuesday, September 19, CCJ held a workshop on the basics of unconventional oil and gas drilling leases in Daisytown, PA. Ryan Hamilton (Hamilton Law LLC) gave a presentation and answered community members’ questions like “How do I know who owns the mineral rights below my property?” and “If I am approached about leasing my land, but I don’t want to, will they be able to drill anyway?”

It’s important to remember that everything in the stock lease you are presented is negotiable. You can add an addendum and strike out details that are not in the best interest of you, your family, or your land. However, legalese can be confusing, and leases are primarily written to benefit the company, not the landowner. We advise that you contact an attorney to ensure that everything is in order.

If you have questions about unconventional oil and gas leases, or about activity in your area, please reach out to CCJ at any time by calling 724-229-3550 or emailing smartik@coalfieldjustice.org.

If you would like to reach Ryan Hamilton, please call 412-567-9799 or email ryan@hamiltonlawllc.com.

Become a Community Advocate Training Series

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Have you been concerned about your rights being taken away and struggled to figure out how to get involved? The Center for Coalfield Justice is hosting a FREE training series that will teach you how to share your story, organize more people into a community action group, and implement a campaign to defend our environmental and human rights.  

The training series will be held the last four Monday nights in October from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM in the CCJ office (184 S Main St. Washington, PA 15301). We will provide all training materials and refreshments for the evening. Register for all the trainings or for specific sessions by following this link.

Session #1 -- Monday, October 9 -- Telling Your Story

Learn important public speaking skills and explore how your own personal life relates to the issue around which you want to organize.

Session #2 -- Monday, October 16 -- Creating a Community Group and Campaign Planning

Learn how to develop a campaign by finding others who care about the same issue and taking actions together.

Session #3 -- Monday, October 23 -- Talking with Media and Decision Makers

Learn useful tactics when speaking to members of the media and decision makers and how to make your story compelling to a specific audience.

Session #4 -- Monday, October 30 -- Funding Your Group

Learn about grassroots and organizational funding options to help support your group’s efforts.

These trainings are just the start of developing your skills to create change in your community. CCJ and our allies will continue to provide support after you attend the trainings and begin using your skills to protect our rights.

Register Below: 

The Environmental Hearing Board Rules In Favor of CCJ and Sierra Club

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On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) unanimously delivered a major victory to Center for Coalfield Justice, Sierra Club and their members in a consolidated appeal of two longwall mining permits for the Bailey Coal Mine: Permit Revision No. 180 and Permit Revision No. 189. The EHB’s decision sets important precedent for streams in Pennsylvania that may be impacted by longwall coal mining operations

The Permit Revisions allowed Consol Energy to expand longwall mining operations at the Bailey Mine to an area located to the east of Ryerson Station State Park. Permit Revision No. 180 authorized longwall mining in the 1L through 5L panels, but did not authorize longwall mining beneath Polen Run and Kent Run. Permit Revision No. 189 authorized longwall mining beneath Polen Run in the 1L and 2L panels of the Bailey Lower East Expansion. It also authorized post-mining stream channel lining to address predicted subsidence-induced flow loss.

The Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) and Consol predicted that longwall mining would cause flow loss and pooling in certain overlying streams.The DEP determined that the extent and severity of the predicted subsidence-induced stream impacts would require post-mining stream remediation including streambed lining, streambed grouting, and gate cutting.  We presented our case before the EHB in August 2016.

While waiting for a final decision from the Judges, Senators Scarnati and Yaw introduced SB 624 in an attempt to retroactively defeat our legal arguments. SB 624 was amended in the House with support from the DEP. The amended version of SB 624 is now known as Act 32 of 2017. These amendments to the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (“Mine Subsidence Act”)  were a transparent attempt to substitute the Legislature’s judgment for that of the EHB’s in the Consolidated Appeal.

However, the EHB refused to apply Act 32 of 2017 to the Consolidated Appeal. The Judges agreed that Act 32 constitutes a change to the approved Pennsylvania Mining Program and requires approval from the Federal Office of Surface Mining (“OSM”). Without OSM approval, the amendments to the Mine Subsidence Act are not effective. Just as importantly, the EHB explained that it would have reached the same conclusion even if Act 32 had applied. As a result, the EHB’s decision cannot be invalidated should OSM approve the amendments in the future.

In the 71-page opinion, the EHB ruled in favor of CCJ and Sierra Club and held that issuance of Permit Revision No. 189 was in violation of the Clean Streams Law, the Mine Subsidence Act and associated regulations. The EHB explained:

"When the Department anticipates that the impacts from longwall mining are going to be so extensive that the only way to “fix” the anticipated damage to the stream is to essentially destroy the existing stream channel and streambanks and rebuild it from scratch, the Department’s decision to issue Permit Revision No. 189 is unreasonable and contrary to the law.” 

In addition, the EHB found that the Department’s action granting Permit Revision No. 189 violated Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Board acknowledged that Clean Streams Law, the Mine Subsidence Act and their regulations are relevant to the protection of public natural resources like the streams within and around Ryerson Station State Park. The Board also recognized that compliance with a state statute does not always equate to compliance with Article I, Section 27. Department actions taken under the authority of a statute must still be measured against the constitutional requirements of Article I, Section 27. However, in this case, no further analysis was required.

“At a minimum, a Department permitting action that is not lawful under the statutes and regulation in place to protect waters of the Commonwealth, cannot be said to meet the Department’s trustee responsibility under Article I, Section 27 and is clearly a state action taken contrary to the rights of citizens to pure water.”

While this decision did not prevent harm to Polen Run above that section of the mine, it sets an important precedent for the future. The immediate impact is to preclude the Department from authorizing longwall mining beneath the portion of Polen Run that flows through Ryerson Station State Park.

The DEP already determined that other, more minor forms of post-mining stream remediation would not restore the stream and that stream channel lining would be necessary. Since it is not reasonable, lawful or constitutional “to allow longwall mining to take place when the Department determines prior to issuing the permit that the impacts to a stream will rise to a level that the necessary restoration will require this level of disruption to the existing stream,” the DEP cannot approve Consol’s pending application to longwall mine beneath Polen Run in the 4L and 5L panels.

Over three years ago, in April 2014, Consol voluntarily revised its mining plan and represented to the DEP that it could and would conduct development mining (not longwall mining) beneath Polen Run in the 4L and 5L panels, which is located within Ryerson Station State Park. Earlier this year, Consol submitted an application to instead longwall mine beneath this portion of the stream. Should the DEP deny Consol’s pending application, Consol could continue to operate in accordance with their mining plan that was approved in 2014. As a result, denial of its application to longwall mine beneath Polen Run within the Park would not justify a reduction in workforce.

The EHB upheld the DEP’s issuance of Permit Revision No. 180 citing insufficient evidence to conclude that the predicted and observed impacts caused or would cause “impermissible impairment” or “unreasonable degradation” of the streams within the permit area. Still, the EHB provided valuable clarification about the protections afforded to Pennsylvania streams that may be impacted by longwall coal mining.

For over a decade, the DEP has focused almost exclusively on the adequacy of post-mining mitigation plans rather than protecting streams from significant mining impacts.  Instead the DEP relied upon post-mining stream mitigation plans to approve and excuse predicted mining damage to streams in advance. We argued that this emphasis on post-mining mitigation plans and monitoring requirements misses the point. The EHB largely agreed.

More specifically, we argued that the law allows for some amount of environmental impact because what is important is not that absolutely no environmental impact occurs, but that the impact does not impair the stream’s protected uses (e.g. aquatic life). In other words, a company can mine and in doing so remove some flow from a stream so long as it does not remove so much flow that the stream no longer supports aquatic life. The EHB agreed that

“The fundamental question in this case is whether the impacts from subsidence anticipated from and caused by Consol’s longwall mining in the [Bailey Lower East Expansion] will impair or have impaired the streams in the area. Impairment clearly violates the Clean Streams Law and its regulations and if the Department determined that longwall mining will impair the streams in the [Bailey Lower East Expansion], it should deny the permit revisions. It also violated the Mine Subsidence Act and its regulations.”

Consistent with this impairment framework, the EHB acknowledged the mining-induced impacts observed in undermined streams at the Bailey Lower East Expansion and discussed the use of post-mining streambed grouting to address flow loss and the use of gate cutting to mitigate subsidence-induced pooling. With respect to gate cutting, the EHB expressed concern “because the streambed is excavated in places to lower the stream gradient and re-establish flow. Extensive excavation of the streambed can certainly impact a stream and impair its uses because of the impact it will have on the organisms in the stream.” This means the DEP must consider the scope and duration of post-mining mitigation work. A promise to perform repairs may not be enough if stream uses will be impaired.   

Although the EHB was not convinced that the streams under which Permit Revision No. 180 authorized mining were likely to or did suffer impermissible impairment, the EHB recognized that

“Even this level of impact, which necessitates the implementation of minor forms of stream mitigation, could result in stream impairment if the time or amount of work involved extended beyond what was demonstrated in this case.”

While there is still work to be done, the Board’s opinion sets forth important guidance for evaluating longwall mining applications in the future and provides stronger protection for Pennsylvania streams.

CCJ stands against efforts to remove DACA* protections and endanger 800,000 young adults and their families.

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The Center for Coalfield Justice works daily to improve people’s quality of life and keep our families safe and healthy from outside fossil fuel corporations who are exploiting resources and people for private profit. We push against their power towards a healthier environment and a thriving economy where our children will have the best opportunity to succeed. Every parent and community hopes that their children will not face adversity and will have a clear path to grow and thrive into adults -- but unfortunately, that is not the case for many children in our communities and across the world.

In threatening to repeal DACA, President Trump is putting over 800,000 brave young adults -- young people who are working or going to school, living their lives, and contributing to our country -- at risk of deportation. Many of these young people came to the US with parents who, for the sake of their children, fled war torn communities, areas in economic collapse, or places with unsafe environmental conditions. This is their home.  

CCJ members know what it is like when a coal company destroys our home and we are forced to leave.  Such a situation is a tragedy and an injustice for CCJ members, but it doesn’t carry the same threat of displacement into places of political violence and other risks as for our immigrant friends.

The Center for Coalfield Justice stands in solidarity with the immigrant community in supporting the continuation of DACA to ensure that all young people are safe, connected to their families, and have the best opportunity to succeed in their lives.

Call your congressperson today to show your support for DACA.

*DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is a program created through an executive order by President Obama in June of 2012, to give temporary, renewable, relief from deportation and work authorization to young people who meet certain eligibility criteria.

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.