Caroline Boone and Mimi Wahid are MIT undergraduate students who are interning with CCJ this month. They are excited to learn more about the needs of coalfield communities and contribute to CCJ’s mission.
Born and raised in Salisbury, North Carolina, Mimi Wahid is a sophomore at MIT where she is majoring in Urban Studies and Planning with a concentration in environmental justice. She is excited to intern with CCJ because she hopes to understand the impacts of resource extraction on Southwestern Pennsylvania’ communities, and learn from CCJ’s advocacy, organizing, and economic justice work. Coming from rural North Carolina, where she was surrounded by the impacts of environmental injustice, Mimi is passionate about advocating for marginalized communities and hopes that this internship will help prepare her for a career in environmental justice. Fun fact: I really enjoy quilting and knitting
Caroline Boone is from Columbia, Maryland and is currently pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in renewable energy development from MIT. Growing up, she loved the Chesapeake Bay and all its tributaries and spent her time learning about resource management and preservation in its watershed. She is excited to intern with CCJ because she feels strongly about working directly on the community level and wants to get a better understanding of how CCJ works to interface with and advocate for the community. When not working, she enjoys running, cooking, and building.
The PA Department of Environmental Protection issued water permits (Chapters 102 and 105) for the PA leg of the Falcon Pipeline to be built, run, and operated by Shell. This pipeline will carry ethane, a natural gas liquid, from Houston, PA’s MarkWest facility to the Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County. Concerned residents from Washington, Allegheny, and Beaver Counties - all of which will be impacted by the Falcon - raised concerns at a series of public hearings hosted by the DEP in early 2018. In its permit decision, the DEP issued responses to these concerns.
Slightly west of us, the OH Environmental Protection Agency issued the air permit for the PTT Global Chemicals Cracker Plant to be built in Shadyside, OH. Like the plant in Beaver County, PA, this cracker plant will take ethane and use heat to crack the molecules into ethylene and polyethylene, which is used to make plastics. Because of its location so close to the Ohio/West Virginia border, residents of both states attended the public hearing to express their concerns with the plant. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, and Freshwater Accountability Project have joined together to challenge the permit.
While the content of both permits is troubling, the manner in which they were issued was equally concerning. Agencies have a tendency to issue hot-button permits when they think people aren’t watching: The PTTGC permit was issued on December 21, and the Falcon permits were issued on December 20, 2018. This move is akin to the Trump administration’s release of a dire climate report on Black Friday - it is an obvious attempt to ensure that the people most concerned about an issue are distracted and unable to rally the public. This is cowardice in its most undemocratic form. If decision-makers are truly making decisions that are lawful and viewed to be what’s best for the people they serve, why the secrecy and circumvention of public input?
If these projects and the backroom dealings that allow them to move forward concern you, sign up here to join a growing coalition of individuals and organizations fighting to put people over petro. We need your voice in the fight.
Heaven Lee Sensky was born and raised on a small family farm in Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania where she has been an active community member in advocacy and non profit work since she was 13 years old. As a first generation college graduate, her passion to pave the way for others in her community encouraged her to pursue college in Washington, DC to study public policy and social structures. Heaven is a recent graduate of American University, where she studied Communications, Law Studies, Economics, and Government in addition to Women, Gender and Sexualities studies. She previously interned for The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, The American University Center for Diversity and Inclusion, United States Senator Bob Casey, and The Personal Office of Michelle and Barack Obama. After a very busy 3 ½ years in college, Heaven is eager to get to work protecting and defending Appalachia (and spending some much needed time with her new dog, Gizmo).
You can read more about Heaven in a recent article published by American University here.
Our thoughts are with the injured workers and their families after a two tanks exploded at the Mark West plant last night. Our communities deserve more transparency on emergency preparedness plans and potential risks that impact their health, safety, and property.
The explosion and fire occurred at the MarkWest gas processing plant in Houston, PA, on Thursday, December 14. All of the injured workers suffered burns; one of them is in critical condition. They were flown by medical helicopter to two Pittsburgh hospitals.
Nine fire departments and three EMS crews responded, as did the county’s hazmat unit. No homes were evacuated.
A MarkWest official said in a statement that the explosion occurred “near two temporary tanks that were on-site for routine maintenance, resulting in a fire.” The tanks contained ethylene glycol and hydrocarbons.
“Although the processing plant was not involved in the incident, it was shut down as a precaution and at this time there are no off-site impacts,” the statement read. “Agency notifications have been made and an investigation into the cause of this event is underway. Our prayers are with our injured colleagues and their families.”
Rates of Black Lung disease are on the rise in coal communities across Appalachia, but Congress is set to allow Black Lung Disability benefits to be jeopardized. Congress has failed to pass an extension of current funding levels, but some members are fervently working to pass this extension as part of an appropriations bill up for a vote on December 21st. Congress must act to protect miners and pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.
Black Lung, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling hazardous coal dust. Companies that operate today pay for benefits for miners who suffer from Black Lung, but, when coal companies file for bankruptcy, miners are left without funds to cover the treatment for this horrible disease. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was designed to fill that gap: it places a small tax on each ton of coal produced, and that money is used to help struggling miners. However, in 2017 alone, more than 2,500 claims were transferred to the Trust Fund due to coal company bankruptcies. This important Trust Fund has been struggling to remain solvent as more people need assistance due to rising rates of Black Lung - and the situation is about to get worse in 2019 when the tax rate is scheduled to fall unless Congress acts now.
The Trust Fund has run at a horrible deficit since its inception and having the rates coal companies pay into the Trust Fund lowered will only drive this deficit up even higher and will continue to be a burden on taxpayers. Coal companies should be paying more into this Trust Fund, not less. It is their work environments that can cause this disease, and more often than not, when a Coal Company goes bankrupt it will simply change its name and go back to mining operations under a different company name. Coal companies, as a whole, would save roughly 3 million dollars a week if this bill extension does not happen. That is 3 million more dollars a week that taxpayers would have to endure on behalf of the coal industry.
As we enter this holiday season, please consider a year-end gift to the Center for Coalfield Justice to support our work in 2019. This past year has been continued growth full of investment in leadership at the local level. Starting with adding three new members to our staff that are all from the local communities we serve.
More exciting this year, we hosted a Peoples Climate, Job, and Justice March in downtown Washington, PA. Over 70 from our local community attended, which shows that people in small towns and rural communities want healthy communities and a thriving economy. We can have both.
CCJ has also committed to addressing the petrochemical buildout in the region by working with impacted communities and coordinating our efforts with other organizations. Recently, we hosted a Grassroots Organizing Summit where over 60 people from across the tri-state region attended to strengthen relationships, learn from each other, and root our movement in trust among each other.
A few other 2018 highlights include:
Continued legal pressure to protect streams in Ryerson Station State Park
Advocated for renewing black lung fund and passing the reclaim act in Washington, DC.
Organized two actions in Pittsburgh challenging and raising awareness about the proposed petrochemical expansion in our region.
Mobilized residents to engage in Greene County’s Draft Comprehensive Planning Process.
Hosted over 5 community events with over 200 people attending.
Submitted over a dozen comments on permits and regulations.
Provided over 30 Fracking in the Coalfield Tours.
Our work is only possible because of donation and support from you. Your donation will support our continued growth and our outreach in the communities in which we live, work and recreate. We plan to host more regular membership meetings, build volunteer teams to address the issues impacting people and uplift rural voices and experiences into statewide and national movements. Please make a donation today to help us achieve these goals in 2019.
Veronica, the Sarahs, Nick, Lisa, and our Board of Directors
Lisa (Coffield) DePaoli joined the staff as Outreach Coordinator in December 2018. She grew up in rural Washington County and has always loved animals and spending time outdoors. Her deep interest in human beings and ecology led her to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked on research projects and taught at the university level in the U.S. and in field schools in Latin America. The knowledge and experience she gained fostered an interest in environmental and social justice issues. Thus, she has decided to work on issues of humans and ecology at the local level in order to research and address important matters in southwestern Pennsylvania. Lisa loves to talk to people about issues that concern them. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, furkids and friends, and taking long walks in the woods with her dogs.
Join the Center for Coalfield Justice and Washington County United for our Ho-Ho-Holiday Party on December 11th from 6 PM to 8 PM at our new office on 14 E Beau St, Washington, PA 15301. We look forward to having a jolly good time with our supporters and allies!
The staff are making their best dishes to share, and we encourage you to bring your favorite holiday dish to share with our community. Don’t forget to wear your ugliest sweater for the chance to win a rockin’ prize. If you’re still not sure, feel like a kid again (and bring your kids to the party, too!) at our sugar cooking decorating table!