June newsletter

We are Hiring!

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We are excited to share that CCJ is growing and adding two more people to our staff team. Click the links below for the job descriptions for the Operations and Data Manager and Community Advocate. 

Operations and Data Manager

Community Advocate

To apply for the positions send a cover letter, resume with three references, and writing sample to Veronica Coptis at veronica@coalfieldjustice.org with the job title in the subject line. 

Public Hearing for Coal Refuse Disposal Area No. 7 Water Permit

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Join the Center for Coalfield Justice at the 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.  

Another beautiful and lush valley will be scoured and then filled in with toxic coal waste.  Consol Energy is seeking another permit to fill in an additional 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.

Come to the meeting and provide your comments and concerns to PA Department of Environmental Protection officials.  Help us stop coal waste from destroying our valleys, streams and ecosystems. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Nick Hood at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 104.  


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.  

CCJ and allies plan trip to D.C. to lobby for black lung benefits for coal miners

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The Center for Coalfield Justice along with the Alliance for Appalachia is planning a trip to Washington D.C. to talk with lawmakers about black lung benefits for coal miners.  We demand that these important benefits be secured. Here is a more in-depth look at the issues surrounding the Black Lung Trust Fund.

The trip will take place from July 22-24. Miners living with black lung have decided to take their issue to Washington, DC. A coalition of groups led by several local Black Lung Associations are working to support a large contingent to travel to Washington DC for a day of action. 

We expect to fill 1-3 charter buses to bring 80 or more miners and their loved ones from across Appalachia to take this issue directly to Congress. 

The goal of this trip is to pressure Congress to acknowledge and address the Black Lung epidemic and to restore the black lung excise tax so that the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which provides black lung benefits to coal miners and their surviving dependents in cases where the miner’s employer has gone bankrupt, can remain solvent in the face of unprecedented need.

Miners living with black lung, their families, their doctors, their neighbors and allies have been reaching out to legislators for over a year. We have delivered thousands of petitions, letters, and postcards. Extensive government reports and investigative journalism have been published to expose the severity of this issue. Miners have sat down and politely explained that they are dying, and that this epidemic is growing worse every day. And yet, Congress has done nothing.  

If you are concerned, please use your voice to help with this cause.  

If you would like to join or have any questions or comments please contact Nick Hood at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 104.  

In addition, right now the Senate Finance Committee is currently examining longer term solutions to temporary tax policy.  The Health Tax Task Force, established by the Committee and which both Senator Toomey and Senator Casey sit on, is looking at the black lung excise tax rate that supports the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. This is an opportunity for stakeholders to make our case for a long-term extension of the tax rate that Congress allowed to lapse at the end of 2018.  In addition, we have heard that the coal industry is lobbying the Task Force aggressively to not extend the tax rate. 

Please send this letter to our Senators today advocating to extend the tax rate and support coal miners suffering from black lung.



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

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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.