Greene County

King Coal certainly ruled our past, but it does not have to rule our future.

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Dear Representative Snyder,

As you said in your op-ed, coal has fueled our economy, has won wars for us, and has continued to play a leading role in our energy production. You’re right on all counts. However, coal has also resulted in thousands of cases of black lung, has destroyed water supplies, and has seen a rapid decline in investment in the past decade.  As a lifelong resident of Washington County (ironically, of Coal Center), I grew up in a mined-out legacy area, where there are dump piles directly next to baseball fields and where people still live in the old row-houses that were part of company towns.  As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I know just how important coal has been to our area and to my own family. I am also painfully aware of the fact that we desperately need to change the way we produce energy else we leave behind a terrible planet for the next generation.

Representative Snyder, you say that coal is a resource “deserving more respect, investment, and consideration by many whose homes and businesses are heated, cooled, and lighted by the very resource they disparage.” What investment are you referencing here? There exist – today – technologies that could produce zero-carbon emissions from power plants that burn coal.  Why are we not investing in these?  Do you expect the utility companies to implement and pay for these changes on their own - without pushing the cost to ratepayers?  Will the legislature pass a law mandating the use of these technologies?  If so, is the state willing to pick up the tab for investing in these technologies? And what about respect for residents and their choice?  We heat our homes with electricity from coal and natural gas because those are the only options available to us in our energy market.  All residents can do to make our carbon footprints smaller is control our consumption of electricity.  We as energy users are being as responsible as we can. I wish I could say the same for the legislature that represents us.

Demand for coal nationwide is declining.  We are seeing states enact legislation that requires an increasingly larger percentage of the energy produced to come from renewable sources.  More importantly, people in the country want to see us transition:  recent polling indicates that less than 30% of the U.S. population supported ramping up coal production. Comparatively, 75% want us to invest more in solar energy, and 71% want to see us further develop our capacity for wind power. Yes, people in southwestern Pennsylvania also want to see a cleaner energy future.  As renewable energy options expand to more and more communities across the country, people are going to choose to use the renewable energy, further decreasing the demand for coal.  If the demand is going away, why do you insist,  “Coal is not going away – quietly or otherwise?”  If you hide your eyes and block your ears to the scary realities of our energy future, our economy will suffer.

No one should discredit what truly clean energy technology has and can do for our world and the security of future generations.

Right now, the wind and solar industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.  They are growing at about a 20% rate each year.  That breaks down to anywhere from 1.3 to 1.9 million jobs over the next forty years – more than 32,000 jobs a year.   These numbers are based on the current investment and development we are seeing nation-wide in these industries; however, the U.S. is actually not the leader in clean energy jobs in the world.  China and Brazil have created more jobs in these areas than we have, and we are closely followed by India, Germany, Japan, France, Bangladesh, and Colombia.  If we want to be exceptional - as you claim we are - we need to become a true leader by not only talking about clean energy but by acting now to make it a reality in our communities across the country. What if we in Pennsylvania became the national leader in bringing these jobs to the coalfields, where workers will be displaced? What if all the legacy coal sites, currently polluting our communities, were reclaimed and replaced with solar or wind farms instead?

Transitioning to a clean energy economy does not mean leaving coal miners behind:  it means respecting them, their families, and their futures enough to invest in them.  It is, in fact, insulting to imply that miners can only be miners for the rest of their lives.  Miners are already among the most dedicated in our workforce:  they work every day in dangerous conditions, and they work irregular shifts and overtime to meet the production demands of their companies.  They do it to provide for their families, and their work contributes greatly to their communities.  Miners are already accustomed to working with extremely complex technology:  they have the minds and skill sets to learn to code or to learn how to operate the equipment needed to install and maintain renewable energy systems.  All they need is the opportunity.  Representative Snyder, what are you doing to attract these opportunities to your district?

You’re right again, Representative Snyder:  “It’s a big job, but we’re Pennsylvanians. We’re used to big jobs. We’re used to carrying a nation on our shoulders.  We have the resources.  We have the people.”

Now, all we need is a state legislature that looks at the bigger picture and is willing to bravely lead the way in creating communities with a thriving economy and healthy environment.   

10th Annual DRYerson Festival

The Center for Coalfield Justice held the 10th Annual DRYerson Festival on June 25th at Ryerson Station State Park. The theme of this year’s Festival was: Our Park, Our Streams, Our Future. We were joined by more than 60 long-time members and volunteers from around southwestern Pennsylvania.

This year, we shared the loss of Duke Lake, highlighted the damage caused by longwall mining at the Bailey Mine to streams surrounding the park, and emphasized the predicted harm to streams in and around the park. This includes one of the last fishing locations remaining, North Fork Dunkard Fork, which flows through Ryerson Station State Park.

We want to thank everyone who came out to celebrate Ryerson Station State Park and stood with us in our fight to protect these streams and Park, for present and future generations.

At the event, our Executive Director, Patrick Grenter, spoke about our ongoing fight to protect Ryerson:

Thank you everyone for being here today, and again welcome to the 10th Annual DRYerson Festival. I’d also like to thank our volunteers, particularly our Board members who are here today, Bob East, Ken Yonek, Kim Teplitzky, Nicole Fifer, Chuck Hunnel and especially our musical guest, Tom Breiding, as well as our staffers Veronica Coptis and Sarah Winner and great interns Steve Kelly, Katharine Richter, Chris Thomas and Sarah Grguas. The theme of this year’s DRYerson is “Our Streams, Our Park, Our Future.” What a shame it is that we are forced to defend these things. Our Streams, Our Park, Our Future. What a shame that our elected officials, sworn to uphold our Constitution, seem to forget about Article 1 Section 27, which promises all of us, as well future generations to come, the unalienable right to clean water, clean air and a healthy environment.

What a shame that eleven years ago, longwall mining at the Bailey mine caused the destruction of Duke Lake. Little could people have known then the mishaps, inequities and injustices were just beginning. In case anyone here doesn’t know, eleven years ago the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources were forced to draw down Duke Lake because the dam was damaged beyond repair. Thousands of fish died in the process, and thousands of future memories and experience were taken from a generation of visitors to Ryerson Station State Park.

For years, Consol executives denied the destruction their activities wrought on this region. They fought, scraped, clawed and weaseled out of every semblance of responsible or moral action. The politicians that they have bought and paid for proved a sound investment. Just weeks before we were to go to trial, to finally hold Consol responsible for the destruction of Duke Lake, they got a sweetheart deal, allowing them to avoid all meaningful liability, and even gave the company the right to frack and mine in and around the park. Apparently taking Duke Lake wasn’t enough. Consol executives were just getting started. Next, they wanted to take, Our Streams, Our Park, Our Future.

Thankfully, because of the many generous members and donors of the Center for Coalfield Justice, we have been in a position to fight them. More than two years ago, when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit that allowed for continued longwall mining in and around Ryerson, we sued them to stop it. When we learned more, and saw that DEP was allowing for the destruction of at least ten streams, we fought harder. When we saw that the DEP permitted activities that allowed for the elimination of all fishing opportunities in Ryerson for at least three years, we knew we had to fight even harder. We are fighting for the soul of this park. We are fighting for the future of this park. We are fighting for what is right.

Two years into this lawsuit, we have faced more and more time-wasting harassment and distraction from Consol. We have faced down their feeble attempts to obstruct and delay justice. We have seen that their mining in other areas in this expansion area nearby have already caused problems. You see, just because we’re suing them, doesn’t mean that Consol can’t mine. While we fight them in court, they’re trying to get as much coal as they can. This is literally a race to see how much they can get away with before its time to face what they’ve done. We have already seen flow loss in Polen Run. We’ve already seen bulldozers and backhoes conducting stream restoration, which involves pumping tons of concrete to fill the holes they ripped into the earth underneath our streams. We have seen them characterize these activities as “improving streams”. Consol referred to a crooked creek as having “excess meanders,” and couldn’t seem to understand why it was that we like these streams just they way they are. We don’t need a coal company “improving them” for us.

So, where we are today is headed towards our trial. This will be one of the biggest environmental cases in Pennsylvania this year. We are scheduled for three weeks of trial starting August 10. We will be facing the big money hired guns that Consol has brought on. We will be facing their downtown attorneys. And I know that we will win. We will win because we are on the right side of history. We will win because our community is with us. And we will win because we are fighting for something bigger than ourselves, something bigger than some company’s quarterly profits. We are fighting for our future. Without water, we have no future. We are here for this fight, but we cannot do it without your help. Please, support our work as much as you can, and donate to support our efforts to fight for Our Park, Our Streams, Our Future.

Thank you.

Show your support for DRYerson by making a targeted donation to our Ryerson Campaign here: bit.ly/defendryerson or by mailing a check into the office with Ryerson in the memo.

Exciting Update in Our Legal Case for Ryerson Station State Park

Yesterday the Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in our appeal of the permits for the Bailey Mine’s Lower East Expansion, which authorize mining under part of Ryerson Station State Park and the surrounding area. We filed our first appeal back in May 2014 against the Department of Environmental Protection for issuing the permit which allows Consol to reduce and eliminate flow in certain streams based on Consol's promise to try to repair the stream later. This is against the Clean Streams Law and the coal mining regulations that DEP is required to follow. A mitigation plan does not make it lawful to approve harm to streams in advance of mining, as the Department did in this case. The parties in our case are DEP, because they made the decision we are challenging, and Consol, because they have the permits we are challenging.