Economic Justice

The Pennsylvania Solar Congress

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The Pennsylvania Solar Congress took place on Sunday, February 24th 2019 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. CCJ staff attended the event to help support solar expansion and to learn more about the industry. The event was hosted by Solar United Neighbors at the Community Forge building, a public community space dedicated to create inclusive opportunities for community members. Solar United Neighbors is a tri-state non-profit organization that advocates for access to solar power for individuals. The organization describes themselves as “..a community of people building a new energy system with rooftop solar at the cornerstone. We help people go solar, join together, and fight for their energy rights.”The Pennsylvania chapter of Solar United Neighbors hosted the state-wide congress in February to discuss pressing issues in solar power policy, ways in which individuals can obtain solar power, and ways for attendees to get involved in grassroots organizing for solar growth going forward. The event also offered opportunities for attendees to view a showcase of some electric vehicles, and a presentation on Driving Electric. In addition, the event was sponsored by the solar installer EIS, and Tupelo Honey Teas, who provided tea and food prepared with solar energy.

The event was widely attended, with several people in the space having traveled from the eastern side of the state. Attendees learned the basics of how solar works on a home or small business, and the incentives that are available to Pennsylvanians . This included information about a 30% federal tax credit available before the end of 2019. According to Solar United Neighbors, homeowners can install solar panels for under $8,000 if they can benefit from a tax credit of that magnitude, and by participating in a solar co-op. The event also featured a panel of homeowners, all of whom have installed solar panels on their homes. The panel was able to answer a variety of questions from attendees, such as how solar panels impact roofs, and how cost savings compare across different heating systems and the square footage of homes. . Overall, a key theme of the Pennsylvania Solar Congress was to support PA House bill 531, addressing community solar access in Pennsylvania. Solar United Neighbors explains community solar on their website, saying that it “offers the benefit of solar to those who can’t, or prefer not to, install solar panels on their homes. These projects enable individuals, businesses, or organizations to purchase or lease a “share” in a community solar project. If you join a community solar project, you receive a credit on your electric bill each month for the energy produced by your share.” At this time, community solar is outlawed in the state of Pennsylvania. Currently, the organization is working to expand solar co-op opportunities into Washington and Greene counties. A solar co-op, in this case, is an organized group of buyers who pursue installation of solar panels in one order, at a bulk price.

To learn more about the work Solar United Neighbors is doing to expand solar power in our region, click here.

In addition, The Center for Coalfield Justice and Solar United Neighbors will be holding a Solar Festival in Greene County on September 28th, so please be sure to save the date!


Why the coalfields need a Green New Deal

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This week, the Office of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released the “Green New Deal Resolution.” The resolution outlines the goals, motivations, and responsibilities of the Green New Deal: a call for a collective effort to respond to climate change in a way that takes into account the economic, environmental, and social justice implications of changing climate conditions.

“A bold vision is desperately needed in our current climate and economic crisis. It is critical that as the resolution turns into policy, we listen to workers and frontline community members to drive the solutions” - Veronica Coptis, Center for Coalfield Justice Executive Director

Living in the coalfields, we all know that a plan to fight climate change won’t work unless it takes into account the needs of those most at risk - those who live with the everyday impact of pollution, environmental degradation, or resource extraction. We live in a place where our environmental concerns are inseparable from our economic concerns. The Green New Deal resolution has evolved over time to be more inclusive of communities like ours - and we support its language about fair transitions for our workers, diversifying our economy, and giving power to frontline communities.

We want to draw attention to a few of the Green New Deal’s resolutions and goals that make us particularly hopeful about the potential of this. We are excited to envision a future where our government is accountable to these principles.

The resolution calls for, with “transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline communities,” a government-launched mobilization to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.” We are particularly engaged by the aim of a just transition. We believe that a fair economic transition is possible for our region’s future - and with national support for our transition this future becomes even more possible. The resolution explains what this transition would require:

“And be it further resolved, that to achieve the Green New Deal goals, a Green New Deal will require… directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and any communities, such as those reliant on greenhouse-gas intensive industries, that may otherwise struggle with the transition”

For those of us living on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction, climate/environmental justice is inseparable from economic justice. If we consider energy, we must also consider the people involved in and affected by the energy industry; if we want to build resilience to environmental change, we must also build a diverse and resilient economy. The New Green Deal strives to address both climate change and economic inequality. Through this, it gives our community hope for a better future.

Contact us if you want to discuss this in more detail.


Greene County is Updating Comprehensive Plan

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Greene County’s current comprehensive plan will expire in 2020 and the county is in the process of updating it’s comprehensive plan. A Comprehensive plan serves as a document designed to guide the future actions of a community. It presents a vision for the future, with long-range goals and objectives for all activity that affect the local government. Comprehensive plans are critical documents for local government to access funding sources to support the vision of the region.

The county is currently in the planning process and an advisory committee of the Greene County Planning Commission is working to draft the new comprehensive plan. The 50 member advisory committee has been meeting since March to develop the plan that will help define what the county hopes to accomplish over the next 10 years in terms of community and economic development.

The advisory team is hosting a series of open house-type public meetings to share about the process and get input from residents on what should be included in the draft plan. This is your opportunity early in the process to share whether you are concerned about an increase in development in your rural community, a need to have increased access to broadband and cell service, diversifying employment opportunities, or any other visions, hopes you want to see the county work towards.

The public meetings are scheduled as follows:

Tuesday, September 18th from 4 PM to 7 PM

Jefferson Fire Hall

1483 Jefferson Rd

Jefferson, PA 15344

Wednesday, September 19th from 4 PM to 7 PM

Center Township Fire Hall

RR 21 Box 397

Rogersville, PA 15359

Thursday, September 20th from 4 PM to 7 PM

Carmichaels Fire hall

420 W George St

Carmichaels, PA 15320

Tuesday, September 25th from 4 PM to 7 PM

Mon View Park Roller Rink

377 Sr2014

Greensboro, PA 15338

Thursday, September 27th from 4 PM to 7 PM

Franklin Township Municipal Building

568 Rolling Meadows Rd

Waynesburg, PA 15370


This is the beginning of the process to get public input on the comprehensive plan and once the draft plan is complete the county will notice a 45 day public period and potentially a public hearing. If you need assistance getting to any of these meetings or want to make sure concerns are raised in your absence please contact Veronica at veronica@coalfieldjustice.org or call 724-229-3550. CCJ will have a team member at all meetings.

If you want more information on the comprehensive planning process you can contact James Protin Jr with Mackin Engineering Company at jprotin@mackinengineering.com.


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.

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.

Register Your Access to Broadband

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Beginning in February 2018, an 11-month study dubbed the “Pennsylvania Broadband Mapping Initiative” launched.  The study hopes to determine the amount of high-speed internet access that residents of rural Pennsylvania have and then provide potential solutions to the problems, based on previous models of success.  

The study is quick and easy.  All you need to do is:

  1. Access the website
  2. Click the “Start Test” button and,
  3. Wait less than 30 seconds.

The information published includes each device’s IP address but does not include personal identifying information about you as an Internet user.

More than 5.1 million tests — including more than 740,000 in the past three months — have already been conducted in PA since its inception in 2008. This previously collected data will provide a valuable baseline for the study that began on Feb. 1 and will continue to stretch throughout the rest of the calendar year.

The study will identify areas where broadband access does not exist, define characteristics of communities with lower levels of access, and offer examples of successful intervention that might be successful in Pennsylvania’s communities. We know that access to fast internet is lacking in many communities in Greene and Washington Counties. Access to Information is vital and the internet is the best means for the spreading of information, so, it is very important that everyone has an opportunity for internet access.  

How should communities cope with the end of coal?

Photo of PA Route 18 (Photo Credit: Jon Dawson)

Photo of PA Route 18 (Photo Credit: Jon Dawson)

Amelia Urry, Grist

"The Mon Valley in western Pennsylvania was once at the center of an industrial revolution that put the United States on the map, but you might have trouble picking out some of its towns on that map now.

“These communities have been neglected by everybody,” says Veronica Coptis, the executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice and a longtime resident of Greene County. She grew up among the emptied-out towns that first sprung up beside the steel factories and coal mines that once lined the Monongahela River for miles.

Now those steel plants are gone, and many of the mines have closed. The coal mines still in operation are largely mechanized, operated by an ever-dwindling number of non-unionized laborers. The Center for Coalfield Justice, based in Greene and Washington Counties, works to protect the rights of people living in mining towns, filing legal challenges and advocating for better policy from the state government."

Read the full article at Grist. 

Reclaiming our brownfields with Federal funds

For people living in Appalachia, seeing rundown power plants, giant slag piles, and rusted mining infrastructure is part of everyday life.  The people who live in the brownfields have become so accustomed to seeing these in our communities that we sometimes don’t see them for what they are:  eyesores and missed opportunities.  With the decline in coal consumption and investment leading to an eventual total loss of the coal industry, these very same communities face an economic future that is scary – which is why the idea of reclaiming these areas has been introduced in Congress in three different bills (two in the Senate, one in the House), called the RECLAIM Act.

Details about what exactly is in the RECLAIM Act are difficult to find if you only try Google, and the political details are a little unclear.  What’s important to look at when you talk about RECLAIM are the ideas presented in the different forms of the bill.  Funding for projects is important, and all versions of the bill allocate $1 billion for reclamation projects.  This funding then raises some questions:  what lands can use RECLAIM funds, what are the guidelines for the projects, and who should be involved in project proposals? The answers to these questions are where the political issues come in. Let’s look at the background of the bill, then continue to evaluate the bills that are in Congress right now.  

RECLAIM relies on the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) to indicate which types of sites can receive funding.  SMCRA sets out three different types of sites: Priority 1 sites deal with the protection of public health, safety, and property from extreme danger of adverse effects of coal mining practices; Priority 2 sites deal with the protection of public health and safety from adverse effects of coal mining practices; and, Priority 3 sites deal with the restoration of land and water resources and the environment previously degraded by adverse effects of coal mining practices including measures for the conservation and development of soil, water (excluding channelization), woodland, fish and wildlife, recreation resources and agricultural productivity.  In extremely simple terms, Priority 1 and 2 sites are dangerous (P1 more so than P2), but Priority 3 sites are just bad, not dangerous, and in need of some TLC.  SMCRA also created the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR), which has the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) funding.  AML funding - which is a separate budget - already goes to Priority 1, 2, and 3 sites, with the understanding that P1 and P2 sites take priority because they are dangerous.  RECLAIM would add $1 billion to the state AML agencies: in Pennsylvania, this is the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program as part of the Department of Environmental Protection.  In summary:  DEP already receives federal funding to work on AML projects, focusing mostly on P1 and P2 sites, and then continuing with projects on P3 sites if there is funding left over.  RECLAIM would allocate an additional $330 million to PA.  

There are some provisions that are important to creating the most effective law possible.  There are various nonprofit organizations and state agencies that are on-the-ground, working with and within communities to find effective ways to reclaim lands and create economic opportunities.  These agencies and organizations are all considered stakeholders because they have a vested interest in the community already.  The most effective form of the law would ideally have provisions that include stakeholder collaboration:  it wouldn’t only be the government agencies determining which projects need funding or in what direction a project should go.  This is extremely important for community engagement.  These reclamation projects should be something that communities actually want, not something that is forced upon them.  Additionally, when evaluating plans, it is not enough to clean up a mess and let that be good enough.  We are able to clean up abandoned mine lands, of course, but we also have an opportunity to create long-term economic growth at the same time by carefully selecting and planning the projects.  Instead of cleaning up a sludge pile by only planting grass, why not grow grape vines that don’t need the same kind of root system as trees but could help a local vineyard or winery?  Or why not install solar panels on the reclaimed CRDAs?  Economic diversification needs to be included in the language of the bill.  Most importantly, all of these ideas - stakeholder collaboration and economic diversification - need to apply to all sites, P1, 2, and 3 alike.  

Now that we have some background, let’s look at the actual legislation that is on the table.  There have been different versions of the bill that have been introduced in both the House and the Senate in the past, but the active bill that should be focused on is H.R. 1731. This bill was introduced by Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), and it included language for stakeholder collaboration that was left out of previous bills, but it left out funding for Priority 1 and 2 sites, which means that it would only be effective for about 25% of the country’s abandoned coal mines. “In its current form, the bill promotes the first goal of restoring abandoned mines, however, H.R. 1731 as written does not sufficiently promote the second stated goal of the RECLAIM Act:  spurring economic diversification on reclaimed sites. This is because the current language does not incentivize tying mine reclamation with creating long-term economic projects on ‘Priority 1 and 2’ Abandoned Mine Land sites,” says Fritz Boettner of Downstream Strategies.  In order for us to get to an “ideal” bill, it would need amendments.  There are two different companion bills in committee in the Senate, one from Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and one from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).  These versions of the bill have not seen the same traction as the House bill, so the House bill is the one we need to look at most closely.

An amendment was recently passed in the House National Resources Committee with a new proposal from Representative Don Beyer (D-VA).  This amendment alters the language of the bill to include Priority 1 and 2 sites in RECLAIM.  The bill was just passed out of committee and will be heading to the House floor.  There are, however, some problems.

The National Mining Association (NMA) has recently come out in opposition to this bill. “The most recent proposals would accelerate the distribution of the Fund balance to promote economic diversification and development. Such proposals would take the Fund beyond its purpose and well beyond the competency of OSM [the Office of Surface Mining] and its state agency counterparts,” says Hal Quinn, President, and CEO of NMA.  

Take Action: Call your legislators to show support for H.R.1731 and the Beyer Amendment.  Ask as many questions about the bill as you want, and let them know that you want the best option for reclaiming the brownfields in Pennsylvania.

The New Yorker: The Future of Coal Country

Bailey Mine Prep Plant (Photo Credit: CCJ)

Bailey Mine Prep Plant (Photo Credit: CCJ)

By Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker

One Sunday morning, just after deer-hunting season ended, Veronica Coptis, a community organizer in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania, climbed onto her father’s four-wheeler. She set off for a ridge a quarter of a mile from her parents’ small farmhouse, where she was brought up with her brother and two sisters. “Those are coyote tracks,” she called over the engine noise, pointing down at a set of fresh paw prints.

At the crest of the ridge, she stopped along a dirt track and scanned in both directions for security guards. Around her stretched a three-mile wasteland of valleys. Once an untouched landscape of white oak and shagbark hickory, it now belonged to Consol Energy and served as the refuse area for the Bailey Mine Complex, the largest underground coal mine in the United States.

Read full story at the New Yorker