Statement on Columbia Gas Explosion in Washington, PA

photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Center for Coalfield Justice staff, like many in the Washington area, were shocked and scared by the Columbia Gas Pipeline explosion, which destroyed one house and impacted several others, on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. We are waiting with our community to hear news about the five people injured in that explosion and sending our thoughts and best wishes to the impacted families. We also want to recognize and thank the first responders who rushed to the scene. Columbia Gas has taken full responsibility for the incident, and we hope that they act promptly to repair the damages caused to our community. 

Pipelines are complicated infrastructure, deserving of, at the very least, increased transparency about their location, function, and potential risks. Our communities are deserving of improved emergency response plans that prioritize the swift communication of incidents to the surrounding community. 

For more information on the incident, take a look at media coverage linked below:


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:



Remember Today and All Days to Care for Our Environment

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Earth Day is the most celebrated secular holiday in the world.  We all live, work, play, love and depend on this planet. Today is a day to celebrate our planet and perhaps find a way to replenish it and clean it up.

You might consider some of these ideas for you on Earth Day: plant trees or flowers, clean up a roadside or park, go for a walk at a stream, make a rain barrel, make a recycling bin, make bird feeders and/or share your knowledge!

Let Earth Day activities inspire you to make permanent changes in your life. Decide on new, eco-friendly habits and try your best to implement them throughout the year. While Earth Day is one day out of the year to focus on the environment, it takes daily dedication to create long-lasting positive change.  Every little bit counts, and these little things can add up to massive changes.

Today we urge you to soak in the beauty of this planet and to think about how we want to leave it for the generations that follow.

I-70 Delays Upset Local Residents

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Mining operations under I-70 near the West Virginia and Pennsylvania border have begun and will cause delays for commuters.  These specific lane closures will last until at least the end of May, and this is just the first leg of many in the marathon of destroying and rebuilding the highway.  PennDOT executives estimate that the highway will fall two(2) to five(5) feet for this particular stretch of highway.

The Alliance Coal Company’s Tunnel Ridge Mine, currently near West Alexander, PA, will have an active panel beneath I-70 during the next phase of longwall mining, and the company said the process will occur nine(9) more times between now and 2038 under the highway.

More than a decade ago longwall mining took place under I-79 between the Waynesburg and Kirby exits in PA.  Due to the mining, PennDOT had constant monitoring of the highway, with repairs made regularly when subsidence (the sudden collapsing of the ground) occurred.  A report from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the University of Pittsburgh found that PA taxpayers spent $19 million to monitor and repair this section of 1-79.  Again, taxpayers are left to cover the bill for a multi-billion dollar industry. How much will it cost taxpayers if they continue this destruction for another 19 years?

The statement from a PennDOT executive claiming this work would continue until 2038 shows the friendly relations our state has with coal, because permits have not been issued through 2038. According to their active permits, they are only authorized for the next few years.  Will we still even be mining coal in 2038? The state should not just assume that all of these permits will be issued or coal will still have a market in the next ten years.

Love Is Stronger Than Hate

The Center for Coalfield Justice stands in solidarity with our neighbors in Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community, and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those whose lives were so abruptly taken by this horrific crime. We are grateful for the actions of first responders, and we are keeping all those still recovering in our hearts.

The massacre of our neighbors in a house of worship is terrifying and a stark reminder of the recent rise in anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and racism in our communities. From the hateful chants at the Charlottesville demonstration to the appeals to violence on websites and social media, the spread of this hate has been apparent in all of our communities. As a social justice organization committed to the belief that all people have an inherent right to a life free of systematic oppression, we urge our social and political leaders to actively fight against this hate and to denounce not just anti-semitism, but all forms of violence.

Further, we urge our leaders and residents to be vigilant in guarding against the use of public platforms to spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, and messages of violence. This tragedy has taught us once again that our words have power and influence, and that they must be treated accordingly. We must take a united stance against rhetoric and messaging that condones violence, retaliation, and oppression. We cannot remain silent when we witness hateful acts and the continuing polarization of our country. Today, we humbly recommit ourselves to offering words of justice, solidarity, and kinship. We hope that you will join us in remembering our duty to care for one another.

With love,

CCJ Board and Staff

(Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP)

(Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP)

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


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!

Public Pressure Ousts EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt

Image source: Sierra Club

Image source: Sierra Club

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Scott Pruitt, resigned on Thursday, July 5, 2018. Beginning Monday, July 9, 2019, his deputy Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will take over as head of the EPA. Pruitt’s scandals were many and well-documented - you can read about them in this thorough BuzzFeed News article. Pruitts resignation is the direct result of communities all over the nation standing up for clean water, clean air, and government ethics. Since his appointment there were hundreds of actions, thousands of calls to senators, and millions of emails sent to legislators.  
The most recent example of resistance took place when a mother, carrying her young child, confronted Pruitt in a restaurant and a video of the encounter went viral on social media. Since his appointment, though, constituents have contacted their legislators repeatedly, ensuring that his actions were at the center of national dialogue and subject to significant oversight. This is how we hold our public officials accountable. When they do not listen, when their actions fly in the face of our collective values, we continue to speak up, to demand change - until we get change. Andrew Wheeler’s career was spent as a coal lobbyist. He may not make the same ethical transgressions that Pruitt did, but he is likely to continue the environmental policies of this administration. While Pruitt’s resignation is a win, and while it may be tiring, we will continue to stand up.

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)


Monday, June 26, 2017


Veronica Coptis, 724-833-8624,

Emily Pomilio, 202-395-3041,

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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.”


Observer-Reporter: DRYerson Festival to Highlight Stream Preservation at Ryerson

Iron Bridge Area of Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Iron Bridge Area of Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

By C.R. Nelson, Observer-Reporter

WIND RIDGE – The Center for Coalfield Justice will host its 11th annual DRYerson Festival Saturday as it continues to look toward a new vision for Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County.

This yearly picnic, which will run from 1 to 4 p.m. at Pavilion No. 1, will harken back to the fun families enjoyed at the 1,164-acre state park before Duke Lake was drained in 2005 after undermining near the area damaged the lake’s concrete dam.

The park opened in 1960, with the lake being an integral attraction, CCJ executive director Veronica Coptis said, but now the group is working to save the remaining springs and streams from further damage from longwall mining.

Coptis said the group is raising concerns about Senate Bill 624, which would give coal-mining companies more leeway before undermining streams near the park. She said CCJ’s goal is to demonstrate to elected officials that they will “not let our park be destroyed for private profit anymore.”

“Our community has been coming together for more than 10 years, and it’s becoming clear that we are winning,” Coptis said.

Read full article at Observer-Reporter

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