ACT 54

Bailey Mine Expansion Public Conference

There is a pending revision for Bailey Mine that will add 2,510 acres of existing underground permit area and underground subsidence control plan area from development mining to longwall mining.  We encourage you to attend the July 2, 2019 informal public conference held by the PA Department of Environmental Protection from 1-3 P.M. at Ryerson Station State Park Visitor Center located at 361 Bristoria Road, Wind Ridge, PA 15380.  Department representatives will be available to receive written and verbal testimony regarding the permit. 

The proposed revision is in Richhill & Aleppo Townships, Greene County. Below is a picture of a map that we know is challenging to read, so please call the office to see if you are within the permit boundary: 

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The proposed revision also requests approval to perform minor types of stream restoration as may be necessary for streams located within the proposed revision.  Long Run, Blacks Creek, South Fork Dunkard Fork and numerous other Unnamed Tributaries are within the subsidence control area. Please attend this public meeting to ensure the protection of your property, water supplies, and the health of these streams and our drinking water.  If you have any questions or comments or if you need help creating your written or verbal testimony regarding this permit, please contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 104.  

Thanks for a Great DRYerson Festival!

On Saturday, June 22nd, the staff of the Center for Coalfield Justice held its 13th Annual DRYerson Festival at Ryerson Station State Park. About 100 community members attended the festival and enjoyed the park, the beautiful afternoon, conversation and community, food, door prizes, snow cones and cotton candy, and great music from Bree Otto! We enjoyed seeing each and every one of you! Thank you for coming out! 

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The date of this DRYerson Festival marked the 25th anniversary of when Act 54 was passed. For 25 days leading up to the festival, we posted a fact each day on Facebook relating to Act 54. This Act was intended to protect water resources and structures against mine subsidence damage; extend the obligation of coal companies to pay for the damage they cause to homes, land, and businesses; and to enforce greater transparency regarding the impacts of mining. Under Act 54, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must compile data and give it to a third-party source (researchers at the University of Pittsburgh) who produce a report every five years showing the effects of underground mining on land, structures, and water sources. The most recent report was released in August of 2014, regarding the years from 2008-2013. The report regarding 2013-2018 will be released at the end of August of 2019. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 763, which has been referred to the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, would significantly weaken these protections. We are monitoring this bill and others and will share additional updates and send action alerts as needed.

We are also monitoring the streams in Ryerson (Kent Run, Polen Run, and North Fork Dunkard Fork) and are prepared to take any enforcement action if they experience significant damage that is not promptly restored. Two representatives of CCJ also serve on the Re-envision Ryerson Task Forces and have advocated for the state to be more clear about the timeline and process for improvement projects at the Park. There is another task force meeting scheduled for August and we will share an update afterwards.

Thanks to all of our members and supporters, who help us to continue the work that we do for environmental justice for our communities, and thank you to all of our volunteers for the hard work. We’ll look forward to doing this again next year!

Proposed Legislation Will Weaken Environmental Protections

Polen Run at Ryerson Station State Park

Polen Run at Ryerson Station State Park

The Pennsylvania Senate has been busy considering a series of bills that would reduce accountability and transparency regarding the impact of longwall mining operations in Pennsylvania, weaken water protections, and limit the ability for concerned individuals and organizations to challenge permits issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”).

Senate Bill 763

SB 763 introduced by Senator Bartolotta proposes amendments to the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (“Act 54” or “Mine Subsidence Act”).  Currently, the Mine Subsidence Act requires DEP to compile, on an ongoing basis, information from mine permit applications, monitoring reports, and enforcement actions related to surface impacts of underground coal mining. It also requires DEP to report its findings regarding subsidence damage to homes and businesses, water supplies and streams at five-year intervals. A team from the University of Pittsburgh, which brings together expertise in mine engineering, hydrogeology, and ecology, is compiling the 5th five-year report. The 5th Act 54 report is scheduled to come out this year.

SB 763 would make compiling a report on subsidence damage to homes and other structures, water supplies and streams optional under the Mine Subsidence Act. The bill also eliminates the specific directive to the DEP to evaluate “the effects of deep mining on subsidence of surface structures and features and on water resources, including sources of public and private water supplies.” SB 763 replaces this specific directive with the generic phrase: “compliance with the requirements of this act.”

Assuming a report is compiled at all, SB 763 goes one step further and seeks to limit who would receive a copy of that report.  Under existing law, the five-year report compiled by DEP is submitted to the Governor, the General Assembly as a whole, and the DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council. Under SB 763, only the Governor and the Environmental Resources and Energy Committees in the Senate and House would receive a copy of the report.

The DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council (“CAC”) would no longer be entitled to receive a copy of the report. CAC held two public hearings on the report that was released in 2015, including one in Washington County. The Citizens Advisory Council used these public hearings to help it develop its comments and recommendations to improve Pennsylvania’s mining program. Those recommendations included a more qualitative review of water supplies, re-evaluating the 35-degree rebuttable presumption zone, and the general assembly make changes to ensure prompt replacement of water supplies.

SB 763 has been referred to the Environmental Resources and Energy  Committee.

Senate Bill 619

SB 619 introduced by Senator Yaw seeks to amend the Clean Streams Law to exclude from its definition of pollution any “accidental discharge, spill or release that does not cause a violation of any of the numeric water quality criteria under 25 Pa. Code Chapter 93 (relating to water quality standards).” SB 619 would also eliminate the need for reporting of accidental spills unless they meet this new limited definition of pollution.

Currently, the Clean Streams Law does not state that one can never place a pollutant into a stream. Instead, the Clean Streams Law and the NPDES permitting scheme allow 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 protected water uses listed in 25 Pa. Code §§ 93.3 and 93.4 (e.g. aquatic life, recreation, water supply).

SB 619 would add language narrowing the definition of pollution in the Clean Streams Law: “An accidental discharge, spill or release that does not cause a violation of any of the numeric water quality criteria under 25 Pa. Code Ch. 93 (relating to water quality standards) for the receiving water does not constitute pollution.” (emphasis added).

Chapter 93 protects water quality by protecting the designated water uses of streams and rivers such as for water supply, aquatic life, fishing, and recreation. The fundamental goal and purpose of the Clean Streams Law and the DEP’s water protection regulations is to protect and maintain uses. State water quality standards consist of three elements: designated uses that specify the intended uses or goal for each water body or segment of water in the state; criteria that are generally specific maximum numerical concentrations of pollutants in the water body that will not preclude attainment of the designated use; and an antidegradation policy that imposes limits on the issuance of permits that will impair designated and existing uses.

The problem with the revision proposed by SB 619 is that Chapter 93 contains few numeric water quality criteria. In fact, there are only 15 specifically named in Section 93.7 including alkalinity, ammonia nitrogen, bacteria, chloride, color, dissolved oxygen, fluoride, iron, manganese, nitrite plus nitrate, osmotic pressure, pH, Phenolics, sulfate and temperature. While the Chapter contains additional standards, they are not numeric because they are based on the designated use of the waterway. Section 93.7  acknowledges that the “list of specific  water quality criteria does not include all possible substances that could cause pollution.” It then adds the general requirement: “For substances not listed, the general criterion that these substances may not be inimical or injurious to the existing or designated water uses applies.” Further, Section 93.6 states: “Water may not contain substances attributable to point or nonpoint source discharges in concentration or amounts sufficient to be inimical or harmful to the water uses to be protected or to human, animal, plant or aquatic life…In addition to other substances listed within or addressed by this chapter, specific substances to be controlled include, but are not limited to, floating materials, oil, grease, scum and substances that produce color, tastes, odors, turbidity or settle to form deposits.” Again, these are not numeric water quality standards.

As written, if an accidental spill temporarily and irreparable harms aquatic life or temporarily or permanently prevented a stream or river from being used according to its designated use, without violating a numeric standard, DEP may not be able to take action to require cleanup and remediation because it would not be considered “pollution” under the Clean Streams Law. A company may not even be required to report the spill to DEP or downstream water users.

SB 619 was last referred to the appropriations committee.

Senate Bill 726

SB 726 introduced by Senator Bartolotta would create a new standard of review for appeals of DEP permitting actions before the Environmental Hearing Board (“EHB”). Currently, the EHB reviews actions of the DEP de novo, and is not limited to the record before the DEP at the time it took the appealed action. The EHB’s review extends to the issue of whether a continuation of the permitted activity is appropriate based upon up-to-date information and expert testimony presented to the EHB.

SB 726 seeks to limit parties appealing permit decisions to issues raised in and information contained in a record of decision of a permit prepared by DEP. Under this new standard of review, parties may be prohibited from calling experts or presenting information to rebut information in the record of decision if that information was not presented to DEP during the permit review process. This change would put additional burden on concerned residents and organizations to submit all possible grounds for appeal and all potentially relevant information during the public comment period. The public comment period is only 30 days long and applications are noticed for public comment before the DEP conducts its technical review. As a result, permit applications are often significantly revised after the public comment period has closed.

SB 726 has been sent to the Environmental Resources and Energy  Committee.

We are monitoring these bills and will share additional updates and send action alerts as needed.



Governor Wolf Allows Senate Longwall Mining Bill to Pass into Law New Law Will Allow Companies to Destroy PA Streams and State Park

Harrisburg, PA--Governor Wolf allowed Senate Bill 624 to pass into law today. The bill creates an exemption to an 80-year-old law that protects streams and water supplies and will allow mining companies to predictably damage or pollute streams based on a promise to clean them up later, instead of preventing the damage in the first place. Additionally, a portion of the bill stated that the act would have retroactively applied to permits dating back to October 8, 2005, including those that were subject of a pending appeal before the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) brought by the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club.

Introduced by Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) two weeks after receiving a $5k donation from Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol), SB 624 was a direct response to a question currently pending before the EHB as to whether Consol can legally mine underneath and around Ryerson Station State Park, and knowingly damage the streams that flow through the area. The new law will now directly impact issues under consideration by the EHB and allow Consol to destroy the remaining streams in the park.

The bill passed the Senate and the House with bipartisan opposition.

In a statement, Veronica Coptis, Executive Director at the Center for Coalfield Justice,  Joanne Kilgour, Pennsylvania Chapter Director for the Sierra Club and Sarah Winner, Staff Attorney at the Center for Coalfield Justice said:

“Governor Tom Wolf supported legislation that sacrificed the constitutional rights of his constituents for Consol’s private gain,” Coptis said. “Governor Wolf, you have failed as a progressive leader and allowed an environmental justice community that has already been damaged by corporate greed, to suffer another blow, destroying our already compromised public park and any future economic opportunities.”

“Governor Wolf, you have made it clear where your priorities lie and it’s not with the people, with local communities or with the environment. You have signaled to corporations that they can blatantly disregard the law if they line politician’s pockets,” Kilgour said. “Thank you to the Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle that stood with Greene County and all future communities that will be devastated by this atrocious law - it is a shame that the Governor did not stand with you.”

“We believe the amendments are unconstitutional and we are evaluating all of our options to take action to protect Pennsylvanians’ environmental rights,” Winner said.

Support the fight to protect Pennsylvanians' environmental rights by making a targeting dontation here: 

https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/donate-to-protect-ryerson-station-state-park-from-coal-mining?source=direct_link&

 

Send Governor Tom Wolf a Letter Urging Him to Veto SB 624

Last week, the state legislature passed SB 624, which will allow longwall coal mining operators to predict total flow loss in Pennsylvania streams as long as they promise to fix them. The bill was specifically introduced to counter legal arguments made in our pending litigation to protect streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park from predicted subsidence-induced damage. Now, it is up to Governor Wolf to veto SB 624 by July 21st and protect Pennsylvania's parks and streams. SB 624 is an exemption that would only be made for longwall coal mining operators - not for anyone else and violates our environmental rights in the PA Constitution.  For the health of our streams and for the communities in which they flow, we cannot let this bill become law. Governor Wolf is our last line of defense and we need you to urge him to veto SB 624.

Greene County Residents Urge Governor to Veto SB 624

Greene County residents traveled to Harrisburg to meet with Governor Wolf and his staff to urge him to veto an unconstitutional bill attempting to exempt longwall coal mining from the PA Clean Streams Law, which would allow mining companies to predictably damage or pollute streams based on a promise to clean them up later, instead of preventing the damage in the first place.  

Kim Jones and Atilla Shumaker met with political leaders to make them aware of the lost streams and damages our community has already experienced from longwall mining. Over ten years ago, Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park was destroyed due to longwall mining, and now residents are fighting to protect the few water resources that are left in the Park. A stream on Jones’s property was undermined in 2004 and was dewatered. After years of mitigation attempts, the stream has not been restored to pre-mining conditions which include pre-mining flow and aquatic biology which has not recovered since it was mined.

“Mitigation does not protect streams and I felt it necessary to share my story with the Governor,” said Kim Jones, from Wind Ridge, PA.  “It is just one example of the need to protect streams against severe harm, rather than trying to mitigate the harm after it occurs.”

Streams immediately west of Ryerson Station State Park have not recovered In 2012, DEP two letters The DEP never issued a final order on the success of mitigation on Ms. Jones’s  impacted streams, nor several other areas in the North Fork Dunkard Fork watershed, located in Ryerson Station State Park.

“Even the last review of Pennsylvania’s mining law showed that we have lost several miles of streams. These streams are vital to our community and headwaters that source Pittsburgh's drinking water. The state has been entrusted to protect our resources and Governor Wolf has both a moral and constitutional responsibility to do that for everyone including future generations to enjoy,” said Atilla Shumaker.

Atilla Shumaker with the Wheeling Creek Watershed Association was also with the group that traveled to the Capitol.

At the 11th annual DRYerson Festival, the Center for Coalfield Justice collected video messages from local community members urging Governor Wolf to protect the remaining streams and veto the bill. The delegation delivered these messages directly to the Governor’s office so his staff could hear directly from residents who couldn’t travel to Harrisburg.

Despite bipartisan opposition, the State Senate and House voted to pass SB 624

“Senator Bartolotta and Representative Snyder, who support this unconstitutional legislation, have again failed to prioritize the economic future of Ryerson Station State Park and our families over the private profits of a coal corporation,” said Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Center for Coalfield Justice. “Our environmental justice community is depending upon Governor Wolf to veto this destructive bill (SB 624) and protect our constitutional rights to clean, safe and healthy streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park.”

 

 

Senate Passes Mine Pollution Exemption

Despite bipartisan opposition, the State Senate voted to pass SB 624 today. This bill creates an exemption in an 80 year old law that would essentially let mining companies pollute now and clean up their mess later, if ever. What's worse, the bill will retroactively include certain mining permits, essentially allowing Consol Energy to continue, unimpeded, the destruction of Ryerson Station State Park with their operations at the Bailey Mine.  

Thomas Schuster Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative and Veronica Coptis Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice responded in unison:

“Governor Wolf must veto this bill. In doing so he will send a strong message to fossil fuel companies that people's rights come before corporate greed. We are incredibly disappointed in the actions of the Senate today and urge lawmakers in that body to look beyond their campaign coffers when making legislative decisions that affect people across the state. Thank you to the 21 Republican and Democratic Senators who stood up to this bill and voted no. Now it's up to Governor Wolf to take decisive action, putting a stop to this blatant corporate cash grab, by vetoing SB 624."

Longwall Mining Bill Passes in PA House, Awaits Decision from Gov. Wolf

Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, June 26, 2017

CONTACT

Veronica Coptis, 724-833-8624, veronica@coalfieldjustice.org

Emily Pomilio, 202-395-3041, emily.pomilio@sierraclub.org

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Bill Threatens to Harm PA Streams and State Park

Harrisburg, PA--The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed SB 624 today, which creates an exemption to an 80-year-old law that protects streams and water supplies. The bill would allow mining companies to predictably damage or pollute streams based on a promise to clean them up later, instead of preventing the damage in the first place. The version passed by the Senate would have applied retroactively to permits that were the subject of an appeal and heard by the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) after June 30, 2016, an apparent reference to a permit issued to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) for the expansion of its Bailey Mine.

This version of the bill was amended to apply retroactively to all permits issued since 2005 meaning it will go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, which will likely take place tomorrow. Governor Wolf, who will receive the bill tomorrow, has said he opposes the measure but has not mentioned whether he plans to veto it. The House vote was 120-77 which is not enough YES votes to override a veto.

Introduced by Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) two weeks after receiving a $5k donation from Consol, SB 624 is a direct response to a question currently pending before the EHB as to whether Consol can legally mine underneath and around Ryerson Station State Park and predictably damage the streams that flow through the area.

In a statement, Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice and Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club said:

“We saw it in the Senate and now we’re seeing it in the House. Protecting campaign contributions is more important than protecting our streams and public lands. If Governor Wolf doesn’t veto this bill, he will send a signal to all fossil fuel companies that corporate needs come before the people’s constitutional rights,” Coptis said. “Thank you to the 15 Republicans who voted with their conscience to oppose SB 624, and stand with coalfield communities’ right to healthy streams.”

“It’s time for Governor Wolf to step up, veto this bill and stop Consol from destroying our public lands. It’s extremely disappointing that so many elected officials are willing to allow destructive mining practices for no reason other than padding corporate profits,” Schuster said. “Public parks and streams should be a constitutional right to all who live in this state, not a privilege to be revoked by a fossil fuel company. Governor Wolf, separate yourself from this corporate greed and veto this egregious bill.”

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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.

Our Streams Under Attack - Fight Back!

North Fork Dunkard Fork flowing under Iron Bridge in Ryerson Station State Park 

North Fork Dunkard Fork flowing under Iron Bridge in Ryerson Station State Park 

Last month Senate Bill 624 (SB 624) was introduced as a direct response to our litigation that is protecting the streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park. SB 624 attempts to exempt predicted damage to streams from the Clean Streams Law for underground coal mine companies, creating an unconstitutional special rule for them. It appears to be a last ditch effort by Consol to ensure that they can continue destroying our streams in our park.

Contact Your Senator Now

Take action now and urge your Senator to oppose SB 624 and stand up for Pennsylvania Streams. No other industry in Pennsylvania is allowed to predict damage to streams and promise to clean it up afterward.  Coal companies should not be exempted from the laws that protect Pennsylvania streams.

SB 624 is too big a threat for our streams to stay home, so we are bringing our fight to Harrisburg this time. Making it clear that Pennsylvanians do not want their streams destroyed for private profits. Join CCJ and Sierra Club on Tuesday, May 23rd for a Rally in our capitol demanding that our Senators kill this bill and protect our streams. We will be providing transportation from Washington, PA, and Pittsburgh, PA, call 724-229-3550 to get a ride to Harrisburg.

Register for Rally!