Education

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.

Residents Raise Concerns at Cabinet in your Community in Greensburg, PA

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A theater-full of residents from southwest Pennsylvania came together in the morning on Monday, July 30, 2018, for a Cabinet in your Community forum. This is an initiative from the Wolf Administration to ensure that the executive branch officials who are primarily centered in Harrisburg hear from communities across Pennsylvania to learn more about the issues that concern them. Residents are able to ask whatever questions are on their minds, although not all cabinet officials attend each event.

At this particular event, the Secretary who received the most questions was the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Patrick McDonnell, indicating that people in this region are truly concerned about our environment. Most, if not all, questions asked of Secretary McDonnell revolved around fracking, with some people questioning its effects on air pollution through methane leaks and others asking about whether the Secretary is up-to-date on the latest report put out by the Physicians for Social Responsibility detailing the health risks of unconventional oil and gas activity.

What was abundantly clear at this forum was the fact that residents want to engage with their public officials, but, more than that, they want their concerns to be sincerely heard and addressed, not explained away and politicized. When future events are scheduled in the area, we will advertise them in our newsletter, so please make sure you keep an eye on the “Upcoming Events” section of that!

Over 60 Residents Attend Amity Book Release in Washington, PA

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The Center for Coalfield Justice was honored to host Eliza Griswold, New York Time Best Selling Author and Investigative Journalist, in Washington, PA for the release of her latest book, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. The book centers around the struggle of a family from Washington, PA and the neglect of the government in holding Range Resources accountable for pollution from a gas well. Over 60 people came out to meet Eliza and share their own stories of living in the shalefields while getting their copies of the book signed.

State Launches “DEP CONNECT” to Engage with Communities

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The state is launching DEP Connects, a new opportunity from the state regulatory agency to provide communication to residents about DEP programs and to hear from community members across the state. They will hold events in each of the six regional areas across the state.

Sign Up to Get Notices

We highly encourage you to sign up to get information on when the DEP will hold an event in your region so you don’t miss any opportunity to be heard.

Report on Coal Mine Bonding in Central Appalachia

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The Center for Coalfield Justice is a member of the Alliance for Appalachia, which is a regional coalition of grassroots, non-profit organizations with the goals of ending mountaintop removal, putting a halt to destructive coal technologies, and creating a sustainable, just Appalachia.  They recently released a report on the state of surface coal mine bonding in four Central Appalachian states. Bonds are used for ensuring reclamation of mine sites, should a company be unable to finish reclamation. The report details the bonding programs in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and recommends improvements that state and federal agencies should make to better protect communities and the environment.

Check out more information here:

http://theallianceforappalachia.org/report-coal-mining-bonding-central-appalachia/ 

OnePA EJ Team Learns about Environmental Injustice in PA Coalfields

 CCJ Executive Director, Veronica, describing the Coal Refuse Disposal Area or toxic valley fills to One PA Environmental EJ Team. 

CCJ Executive Director, Veronica, describing the Coal Refuse Disposal Area or toxic valley fills to One PA Environmental EJ Team. 

On Earth Day we want to challenge you to learn about the impacts to our environment and people's health in your region. This year we provided a coalfield tour to One Pennsylvania's Environmental Justice Team to help show folks living in Pittsburgh how fossil fuel extraction just a short drive outside the city impacts not just the climate but also city's air and water quality. The attendees were shocked at the scale of the impacts on people and saw many connections to their communities where corporations are also putting their profits before people. At the Center for Coalfield Justice, we are excited to continue bridging the divide between our communities and communities in Pittsburgh. Together we can achieve healthy communities with thriving economies where all our folks have access to clean water, clean air, outdoor spaces, and healthy jobs. Make a donation today and support bringing rural and urban communities together

Ordinance Struggles in the Mon Valley

 CCJ Board member and Clean Air Council representative Lois Bower-Bjornson giving part of the presentation in California Borough. 

CCJ Board member and Clean Air Council representative Lois Bower-Bjornson giving part of the presentation in California Borough. 

Residents of West Pike Run Township and California Borough are at various stages of the zoning ordinance process, attempting to create protective safeguards around homes, schools, and farms from unconventional oil and gas development, or “fracking.”

Last month, CCJ and Clean Air Council teamed up through our work with Protect Our Children to host an informational meeting in California Borough. Residents there can expect a draft ordinance allowing “fracking” activity within Borough lines for the first time to be released soon: this draft has yet to be released to the public.

A longer-running campaign has been ongoing just across the municipal line in West Pike Run Township, where Protect West Pike Run Township members, who are all concerned, local residents, have been speaking up in support of a 1,000 foot setback distance from the edge of a well pad. Their current ordinance follows state standards of a 500 foot setback from the wellbore. Residents have also raised numerous concerns about super well pads, which would be permitted well pads that take up 30 acres of land and can hold upwards of 20 wells per pad. With the 1,000 foot setback distance, one such proposed super well pad would not be permitted on land owned by residents who do not want it, easing the burden on them to fight for their rights.

Both of these campaigns, while at various stages, are ongoing and could use support. If you’re interested in supporting or joining with these residents, contact Sarah Martik at 724-229-3550 x.1 or at smartik@coalfieldjustice.org

Going Solar!

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CCJ is now a partner at Solar United Neighbors of Pennsylvania, a group that helps develop and manage co-ops within communities so that people have access to solar energy at a more affordable cost. By joining together, community members are able to create a demand for a large amount products, which contractors can then order in bulk to save on cost. Because we are organizing within a geographic location, contractors also save time and money on travel, which results in an additional cost-saving for co-op members.

To get involved, join CCJ and Solar United Neighbors at an informational meeting on Wednesday, March 28 from 6:00-7:30 at W&J’s Swanson Science Center (Room 005).

For more information on Solar United Neighbors, visit their website or call our office at 724-229-3550.

A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania's Energy Landscape in 2045

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by Sam Rubright, DrPH

FracTracker Alliance released the report: A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045 on January 10, 2018, which details the potential future impacts of a massive buildout of Marcellus Shale wells and associated natural gas infrastructure.

Industry analysts forecast 47,600 new unconventional oil and gas wells may be drilled in Pennsylvania by 2045, fueling new natural gas power plants and petrochemical facilities in PA and beyond. Based on industry projections and current rates of consumption, FracTracker – a national data-driven non-profit – estimates the buildout would require 583 billion gallons of fresh water, 386 million tons of sand, 798,000 acres of land, 131 billion gallons of liquid waste, 45 million tons of solid waste, and more than 323 million truck trips to drilling sites.

Read more and see the study here.

Parent's Know Your Rights Training

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Our friends with Washington County United are hosting a training for parents to know what your rights are with your children that are in school on Thursday, December 7th from 6 PM to 8 PM at the LeMoyne Community Center (200 N Forrest Ave, Washington, PA 15301). This training will help you learn what rights you have as a parent, what rights your child has, and how you can use these legal protections to help make sure your child has the resources they need to succeed.

Do you know what to do if:
…Your child has an IEP?
…Your child is repeatedly suspended?
…Your child is criminally charged for a school infraction?
…You’re constantly called for behavioral issues in the classroom?
…You want the policy changed in your child’s school?

Come learn from experts who will help you learn what your rights are and how you can use them to help your child.

Food and childcare are available! We'll be meeting at the LeMoyne Community Center, which is wheelchair accessible. Please let us know if you have any questions or need any accommodations for the training.

RSVP Here

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Washington County United is a community organization coming together to fight for quality schools and an economy that works for all of us. We are part of the growing One Pennsylvania statewide network of community organizations working to tackle the roots of inequality in our communities.