Environmental Groups, Locals Speak Out Against Bill Threatening to Harm PA Streams

CCJ and Sierra Club Press Conference at Capitol (Photo Credit: Tom Torres)

CCJ and Sierra Club Press Conference at Capitol (Photo Credit: Tom Torres)

Harrisburg, PA — The Center for Coalfield Justice with the Sierra Club, Mountain Watershed Association and local residents held a press conference today at the Capitol to oppose SB 624 and demand Pennsylvania senators protect local streams instead of creating more loopholes for the coal industry. The bill, which passed through the Senate Energy and Environmental Resources Committee yesterday, attempts to exempt the coal industry from the PA Clean Streams Law.

“Consol is attempting to legislate away the pending litigation and is attempting to guarantee itself the right to destroy the remaining streams in Ryerson Station State Park,” Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice said. “These streams are important economic and recreational resources for western Greene County. They are the very places my community has left to teach our children how to fish.”

Three years ago, the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and Sierra Club filed appeals for two permit revisions to Consol’s Bailey Mine stating they violate the Clean Streams Law and Mining Law. A hearing on the appeals was held in August 2016 and a decision from the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) is expected any day now. However, this bill appears to directly target the Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club’s appeals before the EHB. In section 3 of the bill, it states that the act shall retroactively apply to all permits that were the subject of an appeal and heard by the EHB after June 30, 2016.

“It’s clear that Consol will stop at nothing to win an appeal that is against the law, against the environment and against labor just to prove a point,” Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter said. “Consol should not be allowed to turn our healthy streams into reconstructed drainage ditches.”

"Growing up on the Monongahela River I watched pollution destroy recreational opportunities,” Lois Bower-Bjornson a local PA resident said. “If SB 624 is made into law communities will lose what little they have left."

SB 624 could be voted on in the Senate as early as June 5th.

Post-Gazette: Bill defining coal mining pollution advances in PA Senate

Whitehorn Run in Greene County, PA (Photo Credit: DEP)

Whitehorn Run in Greene County, PA (Photo Credit: DEP)

By Laura Legere by Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG — A bill that will make it harder to challenge underground coal mining permits because of their potential to damage streams advanced out of a Senate committee on Monday.

The bill by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, would amend the state’s mining law to clarify that planned mining subsidence does not constitute potential pollution under the state Clean Streams Law if it is not predicted to result in permanent damage to waterways.

The Environmental Resources and Energy committee voted 8-4 to advance the measure to the full Senate.

Mr. Scarnati said the bill...

Read full article at Post-Gazette

StateImpact: Senate Advance Controversial Coal Mining Bill

Whitehorn Run, Greene County (Photo Credit: DEP)

Whitehorn Run, Greene County (Photo Credit: DEP)

by Marie Cusack, StateImpact

The state senate has advanced a bill that could upend an ongoing legal challenge by two environmental groups seeking to restrict coal mining beneath a western Pennsylvania state park.

With the backing of senate GOP leadership, SB 624 was approved by a committee Monday in an 8-4 party line vote. The measure takes aim at a pending court case, which was first brought three years ago by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Pennsylvania Sierra Club. The two environmental groups are challenging Consol Energy’s 3,000-acre Bailey Mine extension. They argue it would damage 14 streams in and around Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park.

Read full article at StateImpact

Living with the Effects of Shale Gas Extraction

SWEHP Presenting in Buffalo Township (Photo Credit: Sarah Martik)

SWEHP Presenting in Buffalo Township (Photo Credit: Sarah Martik)

Living near a shale gas extraction site, compression station, or pipeline comes with some expected and some potentially unexpected effects of which all residents in the area should be aware.  The release of chemicals and particulate matter into the atmosphere is expected; however, an event like a well fire or pipe leak is not something you can predict.  The most important thing for residents to do is to be proactive:  document your health on a registry, and be prepared to respond in case of an acute disaster.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP) has an online registry where residents can document their health symptoms by filling out a questionnaire. The benefit of regularly updating your information on the registry is that researchers can use this data to find correlations between shale gas activity and health issues.  Knowing your symptoms and what causes them can help you add the right air filtration systems to your home and know what you should tell your doctor should you ever need treatment.  This information can also then be used when talking to legislators about why we need strong regulations on this industry.

In addition to being vigilant about your health, you should also make sure that you are prepared to respond in case of a disaster.  The EHP recommends that you contact your local volunteer emergency coordinator to get his or her recommendations for how to prepare an emergency kit.  Bottled water is important for any emergency situation; pliers are useful for turning off your gas valve to stop gas from flowing into your house; a whistle can be used to help first responders know where you are in the event that you are trapped.  Some disasters may require that you evacuate your home, and knowing your evacuation route can help all residents of your community get to safety quickly.

Thinking about these issues is not pleasant for anyone – when I listened to this presentation, I started to panic a bit myself – but being aware and prepared is the reality of being a resident of the shale fields, and it will help you if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation.  

Observer-Reporter: Consol agrees not to mine near Kent Run in Ryerson Station

Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

by Mike Jones, Observer-Reporter

Consol Energy has agreed not to mine within 100 feet of Kent Run near Ryerson Station in order to retain permission to mine beneath the state park in Greene County, according to an agreement the company reached with state regulators last month.

The agreement between Consol and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which was signed April 26 and released Wednesday...

Read full article at Observer-Reporter

Observer-Reporter: UMWA president arrested at Consol Energy rally

CCJ Board Member Tom Breiding playing at Rally. Photo Credit: United Mine Workers

CCJ Board Member Tom Breiding playing at Rally. Photo Credit: United Mine Workers

by Michael Bradwell with Observer-Reporter

The president of the United Mine Workers of America union was arrested for trespassing on Consol Energy property in Southpointe following a protest over the company’s handling of union retirees’ health-care benefits.

About 1,500 UMWA members descended on Consol’s headquarters in Southpointe Wednesday morning to protest what the union said are recent attempts by the energy company to reduce health-care benefits for its union retirees and threaten potential funding for the pensions of thousands of retired coal miners and widows.

Cecil Roberts was arrested by Cecil Township police....

Read the full story at Observer-Reporter

DCNR and Consol reach an agreement on stream remediation within Ryerson Station State Park

Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Kent Run in Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

On April 25, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (“DCNR”) and Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company, LLC (“Consol”) entered into an agreement concerning access for post-mining stream mitigation in Ryerson Station State Park. A copy of the agreement between DCNR and Consol is available here.

The DEP has not authorized longwall mining beneath Polen Run and Kent Run in the 4L and 5L panels and has not authorized post-mining stream mitigation in those portions of Polen Run and Kent Run, which are located within Ryerson Station State Park. Consol has submitted a permit revision application to DEP and we anticipate that the application will be noticed for public comment in the coming weeks.

King Coal certainly ruled our past, but it does not have to rule our future.

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Dear Representative Snyder,

As you said in your op-ed, coal has fueled our economy, has won wars for us, and has continued to play a leading role in our energy production. You’re right on all counts. However, coal has also resulted in thousands of cases of black lung, has destroyed water supplies, and has seen a rapid decline in investment in the past decade.  As a lifelong resident of Washington County (ironically, of Coal Center), I grew up in a mined-out legacy area, where there are dump piles directly next to baseball fields and where people still live in the old row-houses that were part of company towns.  As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I know just how important coal has been to our area and to my own family. I am also painfully aware of the fact that we desperately need to change the way we produce energy else we leave behind a terrible planet for the next generation.

Representative Snyder, you say that coal is a resource “deserving more respect, investment, and consideration by many whose homes and businesses are heated, cooled, and lighted by the very resource they disparage.” What investment are you referencing here? There exist – today – technologies that could produce zero-carbon emissions from power plants that burn coal.  Why are we not investing in these?  Do you expect the utility companies to implement and pay for these changes on their own - without pushing the cost to ratepayers?  Will the legislature pass a law mandating the use of these technologies?  If so, is the state willing to pick up the tab for investing in these technologies? And what about respect for residents and their choice?  We heat our homes with electricity from coal and natural gas because those are the only options available to us in our energy market.  All residents can do to make our carbon footprints smaller is control our consumption of electricity.  We as energy users are being as responsible as we can. I wish I could say the same for the legislature that represents us.

Demand for coal nationwide is declining.  We are seeing states enact legislation that requires an increasingly larger percentage of the energy produced to come from renewable sources.  More importantly, people in the country want to see us transition:  recent polling indicates that less than 30% of the U.S. population supported ramping up coal production. Comparatively, 75% want us to invest more in solar energy, and 71% want to see us further develop our capacity for wind power. Yes, people in southwestern Pennsylvania also want to see a cleaner energy future.  As renewable energy options expand to more and more communities across the country, people are going to choose to use the renewable energy, further decreasing the demand for coal.  If the demand is going away, why do you insist,  “Coal is not going away – quietly or otherwise?”  If you hide your eyes and block your ears to the scary realities of our energy future, our economy will suffer.

No one should discredit what truly clean energy technology has and can do for our world and the security of future generations.

Right now, the wind and solar industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.  They are growing at about a 20% rate each year.  That breaks down to anywhere from 1.3 to 1.9 million jobs over the next forty years – more than 32,000 jobs a year.   These numbers are based on the current investment and development we are seeing nation-wide in these industries; however, the U.S. is actually not the leader in clean energy jobs in the world.  China and Brazil have created more jobs in these areas than we have, and we are closely followed by India, Germany, Japan, France, Bangladesh, and Colombia.  If we want to be exceptional - as you claim we are - we need to become a true leader by not only talking about clean energy but by acting now to make it a reality in our communities across the country. What if we in Pennsylvania became the national leader in bringing these jobs to the coalfields, where workers will be displaced? What if all the legacy coal sites, currently polluting our communities, were reclaimed and replaced with solar or wind farms instead?

Transitioning to a clean energy economy does not mean leaving coal miners behind:  it means respecting them, their families, and their futures enough to invest in them.  It is, in fact, insulting to imply that miners can only be miners for the rest of their lives.  Miners are already among the most dedicated in our workforce:  they work every day in dangerous conditions, and they work irregular shifts and overtime to meet the production demands of their companies.  They do it to provide for their families, and their work contributes greatly to their communities.  Miners are already accustomed to working with extremely complex technology:  they have the minds and skill sets to learn to code or to learn how to operate the equipment needed to install and maintain renewable energy systems.  All they need is the opportunity.  Representative Snyder, what are you doing to attract these opportunities to your district?

You’re right again, Representative Snyder:  “It’s a big job, but we’re Pennsylvanians. We’re used to big jobs. We’re used to carrying a nation on our shoulders.  We have the resources.  We have the people.”

Now, all we need is a state legislature that looks at the bigger picture and is willing to bravely lead the way in creating communities with a thriving economy and healthy environment.   

A Just Transition: Creating the New Economy in Eastern Kentucky

Our allies Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) and the Mountain Associations for Community Economic Development (MACED) and their supporters are doing powerful work to build a clean and just new economy in eastern Kentucky. Check out this video that shows real examples of what can happen as coal jobs are lost to a dwindling market.