July newsletter

Join Us for our Monthly Meeting on July 30th!

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Please join us for our monthly meeting for members and supporters (that's you!) on July 30th. You are the center of our work; without you, we wouldn’t exist. We want to engage more directly in person with you, and so we are offering more frequent member meetings than we were able to offer in the past. 

Come to the office of the Center for Coalfield Justice at 14 East Beau Street in Washington, PA*, on July 30th from 6:00-8:00 PM. We will be offering potluck dishes (feel free to bring your own!) and showing a short film about climate and environmental justice starting at 6:30 PM, after which we’ll have a brief discussion and conversation.

 If you're coming, kindly let us know on our Facebook page for the event. You can also advise us there if you’re bringing a contribution to the potluck. Alternatively, give us a call at 724-229-3550.

 You’ll also be able to learn about our current work and volunteer opportunities, as well as share with us your ideas about the direction of CCJ. 

 Our communities are the heart of our organization, and we are focused on organizing, educating, and advocating with you. We really look forward to seeing you on July 30th! 

*Accessible entrance to the Center for Coalfield Justice Office is through the Washington Trust Building on 6 N Main St, Washington, PA 15301. Once entering the building use the elevator to go to the basement level, turn left out of the elevator, and go down the hallway. Our office is through the steel doors on your left. (Please let us know if you will be using this entrance)

CCJ welcomes our new intern, Will Behm!


Will is a prospective Conservation Biology major at Middlebury College, located in Vermont. He is originally from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania and has thus witnessed both the environmental and social impacts of extractive industries in rural communities. Through CCJ, Will hopes to learn about local environmental health and energy policy with the goal of fostering a career in conservation or environmental activism. During his free time, Will enjoys playing guitar, competing in track and field, and backpacking.

Can We Really Afford the Affordable Clean Energy Rule?

This contribution to our What’s on your mind? blog series was written by Alexandra Cheek, a CCJ intern and geology student who is finishing up her degree at California University of Pennsylvania:

It seems as if the current administration has found its replacement for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan in the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. Before I get into the details of how this plan may affect the country, here’s a little background:

  • On August 3rd of 2015 President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

    • The goal of this action was to provide “...strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix.”

    • The plan provided a model for states to cost-effectively lower emissions to the standards, with the option for states to submit their own plans with EPA approval.

    • The EPA welcomed comment from states regarding how to finalize a single plan types that would be best or every state.

  • On March 28th of 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order on Energy Independence, putting the Clean Power Plan under review.

    • In October of 2017 the repeal of the CPP began and following public hearing it was finally repealed this past June and replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.

    • The goal of the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) is to “restore(s) rule of law, empower(s) states, and support(s) energy diversity”.

At the outset, the ACE plan actually sounds pretty great. I want my state to be empowered whatever that may mean, and energy diversity is great because there’s no single energy source that can provide sustainable and dependable energy to the entire United States. You can’t fault me for having a little healthy skepticism, though, considering the current EPA administrator Wheeler denies global climate change and previously worked as an attorney defending energy corporations.

The CPP was never actually enforced due to legal challenges, and the current administration is already facing its fair share: This week the Clean Air Task Force filed a suit on behalf of the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. These organizations’ biggest issues are with the increase in particulate matter that affects our most vulnerable populations, the children and elderly. The good news is that the EPA already has an obligation to protect these populations due to the Clean Air Act, the bad news is that they are redefining the standards. The Clean Air Act mandates that standards must reflect the best system of emissions reduction (BSER) for the pollutant; however, ACE has solved this problem by simply changing the BSER for power plants. The CPP used a few building blocks when it came to the BSER, one of which factored in the use of renewable energy. ACE, however, only uses onsite efficiency improvements as their BSER to establish emission standards, meaning that the emissions standard will be a lot less stringent. To put it into perspective, the goal of the CPP was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, while the ACE rule is only forecasted to lower emissions by 1.5 percent at the most compared to no regulation. CPP was also our first real step towards emissions reductions as part of the Paris Agreement, which despite what President Trump might declare, we are still a part of, and cannot withdraw until 2020 (thanks to Article 28 of the Paris Agreement).

Bottom line, I turn my lights on, I drive a car. I am all for people having jobs in the energy industry. I’m also for transparency when it comes to potential human health impacts. The whole reason the CPP was ultimately stayed in Supreme Court is because a handful of energy corporations and two dozen states argued that the CPP could not regulate the amount of greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act. Most of this claim is a result of corporations stating that the changes they would have to make would force layoffs and do more harm than good. The CPP was aggressive in its plan, but maybe that’s an indication of just how bad of shape we are in with our emissions in the first place. Global climate change is like a cancer. It’s aggressive and requires an even more aggressive treatment plan. We can’t change what we did to get to this point but we have every opportunity to change how we proceed and minimize our impacts as much as we can. That won’t happen by lowering our standards and juking the stats so that we look like we’re doing a good job.

Bailey Mine Expansion Recap and CRDA No.7 Reminder

Coal slurry and waste currently filling a Greene County valley

Coal slurry and waste currently filling a Greene County valley

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection held an informal public conference last Tuesday July 2 concerning the Consol Bailey Mine longwall expansion. In Richhill and Aleppo Townships, 2,510 acres will be longwall mined. According to the operator, there are no proposed stream impacts that will require stream mitigation. Few people attended due to the 1-3 p.m. meeting time on a Tuesday, but we collected useful information concerning the expansion if you are concerned or have questions.  

Also, as a reminder, there is an upcoming public hearing for the pending Coal Refuse Disposal Area (CRDA) No. 7 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) water permit. It will take place Wednesday, July 17, 2019 from 1-3 P.M. at the Morris Township Community Center located at 1713 Browns Creek Road, Graysville, PA 15337. Consol Energy is seeking the permit to fill in another valley that will impact 900 acres and fill small headwater streams that are valuable components of downstream ecosystems. The proposed discharges associated with this valley fill further threaten those ecosystems.  The Center for Coalfield Justice will be preparing a technical review and comments and can help residents with providing  their comments to DEP as well.  

If you have any questions, comments, or need help preparing comments please contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 extension 104.  

Why is equity important to discussions of climate change?

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This contribution to our What’s on your mind? blog was written by our Outreach Coordinator Lisa DePaoli, who has studied humans and ecology for quite a long time and earned her Ph.D. in ecological anthropology:

The ways that humans are being impacted by climate change include extreme weather events such as wildfires and flooding, stresses to food-producing systems, the spread of infectious diseases, and negative impacts on biodiversity and wildlife, security, migration, and public goods such as water. In short, climate change impacts people’s health, livelihoods, and homes and other forms of property.  

Furthermore, certain people are disproportionately affected by climate change, including low-income and minority populations and other vulnerable people who are at greater risk due to age, discrimination, health, and/or location. They may have less ability to move about, pay for damages, and rebound after setbacks. Communities of color and low-income communities face an increased vulnerability because of the compounded stresses of ongoing heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and mental health stress.

People who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are also those who are least responsible for causing it (for example, according to a study by Oxfam, the poorest 50 percent — about 3.5 billion people — contribute only 10 percent, while the richest 10 percent of people produce half of the planet’s individual-consumption-based fossil fuel emissions). Changes in weather patterns, sea level rise, and other impacts further exacerbate existing inequities. Therefore, we must integrate questions of justice in debates about the environment. Focusing on only one part of the problem, such as “jobs,” is like treating the symptom and ignoring the cause of this unequal effect (the underlying socio-economic factors of disadvantaged populations). Actions to address climate impacts and to reduce emissions should be considered in conjunction with broader equity issues involving livelihoods and a living wage, health, food security, and energy access. The wellbeing of people and communities must be at the core of climate action.

There is a lot of discussion of possible ways to address the problem of climate change. Unfortunately, many of the ideas that have been brought forward are top-down or trickle-down in approach (e.g., placing a tax on fossil fuels). With this approach, decisions are made by a few people in authority rather than by the people who are affected by those decisions, and solutions are framed by actions and policies that are initiated at the highest levels of government. However, it has been proven over and over again that top-down and trickle-down solutions do not work. This is especially true for systems-level problems like climate change, which involves the triple bottom line of sustainability: social and cultural factors, ecology/environment, and economics. We have to consider the effects of our actions, technologies, and livelihoods on the health of both people and the environment on which we depend.

Climate action and equity issues are integrally linked and can be mutually supportive. We need to ensure fair transitions for our workers, diversify our economy, and give power to frontline communities. Meaningful change will take an active and inclusive social movement, which will accelerate momentum for climate action. 

On the Road to Improving Our Economy


The Center for Coalfield Justice launched an extensive Economic Justice Campaign at the beginning of May 2019. The campaign kicked off with a month-long on-foot door knocking canvass across Greene County. We knocked 1,374 doors and had 212 conversations with folks. The canvass was successful in helping spread the word to encourage the community to join us at two Economic Workshops in both Waynesburg and Carmichaels. In addition, we engaged with folks at their doors and over the phone around their experiences in Greene County and their ideas for the future. 

The workshops were a big success. Attendees forged an original conversation, with multiple points of view, in a civilized and productive manner. Discussions included hopes for the County’s future, the history of the county, the lives and experiences of attendees, and a deep dive into the declining mineral value tax revenue, made possible by of our research partnership with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). 

Due to positive feedback and a drive in the community for continued engagement around this issue, CCJ is planning to hold additional meetings to dive deeper and continue facilitating and uplifting civilized discourse around conversations concerning the future of Greene County. We are looking forward to encouraging residents to engage in active involvement and participation in forging the County’s economic future where everyone has access to good paying jobs. 

As the County Commissioners embark on creating Greene County’s 10-year Comprehensive Plan, it is imperative that the public has transparent access to not only the process but the content of this plan. That being said, the Comprehensive Plan public comment period should open in mid-July and CCJ is working to inform and educate the public on how to make comments and have their voices heard.  

CCJ will be facilitating and implementing a questionnaire/survey about our local economic needs for all candidates running for Greene County Commissioner. With the help of volunteers across the community (that means YOU!), we want you all to help us draft this questionnaire to candidates with your questions. CCJ will be at the Jacktown Fair, Rain Day, the Greene County Fair, and the Washington County Fair to discuss and receive feedback around Greene County’s current economic opportunities and what needs to improve for everyone to thrive in the community. We will be receiving comments and ideas for our candidate survey and we will be helping folks to navigate the Comprehensive Plan public comment process. Look for us in the tabling sections of the fairs- we would love to hear from you! 

For more information about CCJ’s Economic Justice Campaign, to make suggestions, volunteer, or if you have any ideas about research for us to work on through our partnership with MIT, contact Heaven Lee Sensky at heaven@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 Ext. 103.

Fighting for Freedom from Plastics on this Independence Day

On July 4th, many Americans forget the history of the United States. July 4th, 1776 was the date that the Declaration of Independence was published, letting England know that the American colonies considered themselves free and were dissolving the “political bands” that tied the two together. Just as Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, July 4th is not the day that we won our independence (that’s September 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War).  

Internet meme inspired by  The Office

Internet meme inspired by The Office

To be fair, the first step in kicking any bad habit - be it a tax-crazy king or biting your nails - is to decide that the habit is no longer acceptable and to declare that its time is coming to an end. One of the biggest of our collective bad habits is plastics. 

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly, and people around the world are committing to reducing or eliminating their plastic use throughout the month, ditching coffee to-go cups and shampoo bottles in favor of cute, reusable travel mugs and shampoo bars. 

Don’t let getting down with the red-white-and-blue at holiday parties stop you from kicking your plastics habit! Here are some ways to go plastic-free (or reduced-plastic) on your holiday:

1) If you’re traveling, BYOR (bring your own reusables). If you, like so many, are the ultimate shopper and don’t have a to-go dinnerware kit already but it’s too late to order online, you can purchase almost everything you could need in portable sizes anywhere that camping supplies are sold. If you’re not so big on shopping, bring one of those Tupperware containers that you got from your grandmother that will still be around and in use by your own grandkids (you know what I’m talking about). Throw your container, utensils, and a cup into a bag - you’re all set! 

📸: Dianne Peterson,  Our Children Our Earth

📸: Dianne Peterson, Our Children Our Earth

2) If you’re hosting, offer reusables. You can ask people to scrape and rinse their own plates, cutting down on your cleanup later: I’m sure if Emily Post had known about our plastic crisis, she’d support this. If you don’t have enough reusables, encourage people to bring their own (see #1), buy paper/compostable products, and put out separate receptacles for refuse and composting. It’ll cut down on the cost of buying disposables if you ask people to keep their plate as long as possible, too. 

3) Look for plastic-free or reduced-plastic drink options. Drinks like water and lemonade are easy to serve in Pinterest-worthy coolers - don’t waste your money on bottled water. Pop/soda/sodapop is available in recyclable aluminum cans, both 8oz and 12oz sizes - grab the 8oz if you typically pick up a lot of half-full pop cans at the end of the party. 

4) Go for glass. Yes, that craft brewery may have great brews, but there may also be plastic on their aluminum cans! Cans are often wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap because smaller breweries order their cans in bulk but don’t need too many of one particular variety. Investing in a reusable growler can often save you money when you return to get refills - always a good option - and single-serve glass bottles can be recycled at most local recycling facilities. (Glass, unlike plastic, can be recycled repeatedly and still retain its integrity.) 

The plastic shrink wrap is particularly noticeable on the black can. Can you see it?  If you can’t do cans right, wine, keep to glass.  📸: Sarah Martik

The plastic shrink wrap is particularly noticeable on the black can. Can you see it?

If you can’t do cans right, wine, keep to glass.

📸: Sarah Martik

5) Decorate responsibly. Do you really need the plastic table confetti? Will anyone notice the plastic firework cupcake picks? Why go with a frilly plastic wreath that you’ll toss at the end of the day when you can get crafty and make one to use every year? There are plenty of ways to have a cute party without the plastic! 

6) No styrofoam. Your fork pokes through styrofoam plates, and styrofoam coolers don’t work, anyway. If your only option is single-use plastic disposables, for the love of all things frugal and environmentally-friendly, don’t go with styrofoam. 

As you’re declaring personal freedom from plastic, don’t forget that people won’t join in your revolution (like the French did for the colonies) if you don’t tell them about it! People are going to notice if you’re using bamboo utensils: a simple “I’m doing what I can to eliminate unnecessary plastic in my life,” is a great way to open a dialogue. If you want to be like the Marquis de Lafayette and turn the political tide in favor of Independence, consider moving beyond personal changes. Advocate at all levels of government, and add your voice to the movement to #BreakFreeFromPlastic

Have something on your mind? Write about it!

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If you’ve been reading CCJ’s blogs, you know that our staff write 99% of the entries. Solid writers we may be, but blog-hogs we are not: with that in mind, we’d like to issue an open invitation for contributions to our blog!

What should I write about?

Anything! We want to know what’s on your mind, from your thoughts on the petrochemical buildout in Appalachia to your perspective on raising the minimum wage to your opinions about the judicial system. You may respond to something you see in the news, or perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern in political and social discourse. 

Can I write about anything?

Anything that’s not hateful, absolutely! CCJ does not tolerate hate - on us or anyone else - and so we kindly ask you to keep trolling to yourself. However, we do welcome a variety of opinions and encourage dialogue (because censorship sucks). 

Do I need to send this to my English-teacher friend to edit?

You can if you’d like, but CCJ staff must work with writers to edit all contributions before publication on our blog. 

When you have a blog you’d like to submit, use this link to send it our way!

Questions? Contact our Outreach Coordinator, Lisa DePaoli, at lisa@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 101.