The Center for Coalfield Justice will continue to follow and support the community around concerns of environmental impacts on increased cancer occurrences in children following the report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health stating that there is no apparent cancer cluster in Canon-McMillan nor Washington County. We know from our allies across the coalfields and other rural communities across the country that often times communities with lower populations do not fare well under the strict guidelines of public health interpretations. Furthermore, following outreach from community members around the methodology of the study, including what cases were included, we will continue to work to increase public awareness of environmental impacts and government transparency in addressing this public health concern.
Greene County, PA--The Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and the Sierra Club filed an appeal of a permit issued by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that would allow Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to mine underneath another stream within Ryerson Station State Park despite the anticipated damage. This is the fourth time the groups have been forced to file an appeal of permits for Consol’s Bailey Mine East Expansion.
In the meantime, the groups are asking the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) to halt mining in the park while the appeal is being considered. Back in 2017, the EHB forbade Consol from mining within 100 feet of Kent Run inside Ryerson Station State Park while it heard an appeal of the company’s controversial permit to expand its Bailey Mine due to Consol and DEP predicting significant damage, notably subsidence and flow loss, to the stream.
“It is unconscionable that the only state park in an environmental justice community is being sacrificed for the temporary benefit of this one company, yet again,” Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Center for Coalfield Justice and resident of Greene County said. “Consol has already destroyed much of Polen Run outside of the park with previous mining activity. We are asking the Environmental Hearing Board to prevent that same damage inside Ryerson Station State Park.”
Last August, the EHB ruled in favor of the two groups on a similar appeal. The court said that it was a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Clean Streams Law for the DEP to issue a permit when the activity was predicted to result in significant stream damage or pollution. The EHB also ruled that it is not lawful or constitutional for the DEP to authorize stream damage even if the company commits to “restoring” a stream by completely reconstructing it. In spite of that ruling, DEP has now approved a new permit amendment under the same stream, Polen Run which had previously denied Consol’s request to mine beneath this portion of Polen Run because it concluded that longwall mining would cause significant damage and the proposed mitigation technique, streambed grouting, would not be successful in restoring the stream. That decision followed a review period of approximately seven years from the time Consol submitted its application.
“Yet again, our state government has failed to protect an environmental justice community, putting Consol’s profits ahead of the last remaining water resources in Ryerson,” Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter said. “Consol received a permit that is practically identical to one the EHB overturned for an upstream section of the mine last summer. How many more times will DEP shift its duty of protecting communities and the environment onto the very people it is supposed to serve?”
Since longwall mining at the Bailey Mine destroyed Duke Lake 13 years ago, conservationists argue these streams are some of the most important remaining water features and fishing spots in the park. The activity authorized by this new permit will likely result in flow loss that would prevent aquatic life, like fish, salamanders, frogs, and macroinvertebrates (such as mayflies, dragonflies, and other insects that live in streams) from surviving in the stream. Thousands of fish have died from mining at Bailey Mine Complex in the past and thousands of future memories and experiences have been stolen from visitors of Ryerson Station State Park.
Greene County, PA--The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) rejected a revised underground longwall mining permit issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2015 that allowed Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to cause extensive damage to a stream called Polen Run, which flows into Ryerson Station Station State Park.
“We greatly appreciate all of the time that the Board spent on this matter,” Sarah Winner, who represented Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club in the appeals, said. “The Board’s decision provides important clarification about the protections afforded to Pennsylvania streams in the context of longwall coal mining.”
The EHB concurred with two community groups, the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and the Sierra Club, that Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow the DEP to permit mining that is predicted to damage a stream so severely that the only way to “fix” the damage is to construct a new stream in its place.
“We’re thrilled that the EHB has agreed with us that it is illegal to allow a company to destroy streams for the sake of increasing profit. This ruling has put the industry and the DEP on notice that it must do a better job of developing mining plans to protect streams,” Veronica Coptis at the Center for Coalfield Justice said. “We are thankful to the hundreds of area residents who contributed to our successful efforts and remain committed to protecting the streams within Ryerson Station State Park.”
"The EHB set a precedent today that it will protect streams throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. This is a victory for the rule of law and for local folks who have had to suffer the consequences of irresponsible mining practices for too long. Time and again mining companies have proven that putting a stream back together after breaking it is easier said than done,” Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for Pennsylvania at the Sierra Club said. “Now the industry will have to comply with the environmental laws and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and prevent extensive damage in the first place. They can no longer sacrifice community resources for corporate greed.”
CCJ and Sierra Club were also represented by Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services.
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.”
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."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, June 26, 2017
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.”
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.