Newsletter

Tour Reflection from Mimi Wahid

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Mimi Wahid is an intern from MIT working with The Center for the month of January. Last week, she went on CCJ’s “Fracking and the Coalfields” tour with Executive Director Veronica Coptis. Below are her reflections on the experience.

Coalfields Tour Reflection: What does it mean to be undermined?

As an intern at the Center for Coalfield Justice, I’ve heard a lot about undermining these past few weeks. I’ve been told about what happens when creeks and streams are undermined: sometimes the creekbed fractures, the water drains, the groundwater systems are affected. Something geologically permanent can disappear overnight. I’ve seen images and videos about what happens when a building is undermined: the foundation cracks, walls can shift, properties are abandoned. Something formerly sturdy can become unsafe. I’ve started to understand what the economic and environmental impacts of undermining—meaning, mining underneath structures and water sources—are. But on the tour of the coalfields I took last week, I saw what it looks like when an entire community is undermined: when a community’s power is weakened, when their strength is removed from underneath them like a seam of profit-producing coal, when respect, trust, and security are piped away like wet natural gas.

I rode in the front seat of Veronica’s car and listened as she told stories of the region. As we drove through Greene County, Veronica pointed to her right at a valley she used to play in with her siblings. She told us about how, in what felt like an overnight transformation, her favorite place to recreate on turned into a coal refuse disposal area. Sudden and dramatic transformations of land were present all throughout the tour. New roads cut through previously forested hillsides to accommodate heavy truck traffic. Valleys transformed into toxic hills as they were filled in with coal refuse. Our tour began at the Bailey Mine Complex coal preparation plant, where our attention was directed to the massive silos that store coal. Across the horizon, Veronica gestured towards two fracking well pads that, apparently, didn’t exist a few years ago. She explained that, before the wells were built, she used to point out this view as an example of the beautiful, undisturbed forests that CCJ fights to protect. In just a few years, the tour stop transformed from a message of hope to an example of the presence and power of the extraction industry.

While on the tour, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to watch the landscape around me transform; to see strips of trees clearcut to make way for pipelines, valleys filled with toxic refuse, and skies cluttered with towering cranes. I wondered how this might affect my sense of security in my home and on my land. I imagined that it would be difficult to feel powerful if I couldn’t predict or influence the changes in the air I breathe, the earth beneath my home, the water sources I drink from. On the tour, Veronica told us about the various resources, like coal and natural gas, that are extracted from Washington and Greene counties. But the tour also made me wonder about the intangible things that have been extracted: it seemed as though residents’ rights to clean water, sense of security on their land, and confidence in the region’s economic future had been removed as well. It made me wonder if there even exists a fair compensation for extraction of this scale and kind.

Going on CCJ’s “Fracking and the Coalfields” tour made me think more critically about what it means to be undermined. The tour showed me the effects of longwall mine activity through visible changes, like the empty bed of Duke Lake and the boarded up farmhouses that lined our drive. But it also showed me examples of undermining in another sense: places where the extraction industry has subverted, weakened, and removed power from residents. It reminded me of the importance of building and retaining power in communities affected by extraction. And it gave me deep respect for those with the strength to envision a different, more just, future for the coalfields.


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.


Welcome Caroline and Mimi

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Caroline Boone and Mimi Wahid are MIT undergraduate students who are interning with CCJ this month. They are excited to learn more about the needs of coalfield communities and contribute to CCJ’s mission.

Mimi Wahid

Born and raised in Salisbury, North Carolina, Mimi Wahid is a sophomore at MIT where she is majoring in Urban Studies and Planning with a concentration in environmental justice. She is excited to intern with CCJ because she hopes to understand the impacts of resource extraction on Southwestern Pennsylvania’ communities, and learn from CCJ’s advocacy, organizing, and economic justice work. Coming from rural North Carolina, where she was surrounded by the impacts of environmental injustice, Mimi is passionate about advocating for marginalized communities and hopes that this internship will help prepare her for a career in environmental justice. Fun fact: I really enjoy quilting and knitting

Caroline Boone

Caroline Boone is from Columbia, Maryland and is currently pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in renewable energy development from MIT. Growing up, she loved the Chesapeake Bay and all its tributaries and spent her time learning about resource management and preservation in its watershed. She is excited to intern with CCJ because she feels strongly about working directly on the community level and wants to get a better understanding of how CCJ works to interface with and advocate for the community. When not working, she enjoys running, cooking, and building.


Petrochemical Projects Given Green Light over Holiday Break

A drone’s eye view of the Mark West facility in Houston, PA, where the PA leg of the Falcon pipeline will begin.

A drone’s eye view of the Mark West facility in Houston, PA, where the PA leg of the Falcon pipeline will begin.

The PA Department of Environmental Protection issued water permits (Chapters 102 and 105) for the PA leg of the Falcon Pipeline to be built, run, and operated by Shell. This pipeline will carry ethane, a natural gas liquid, from Houston, PA’s MarkWest facility to the Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County. Concerned residents from Washington, Allegheny, and Beaver Counties - all of which will be impacted by the Falcon - raised concerns at a series of public hearings hosted by the DEP in early 2018. In its permit decision, the DEP issued responses to these concerns.

Slightly west of us, the OH Environmental Protection Agency issued the air permit for the PTT Global Chemicals Cracker Plant to be built in Shadyside, OH. Like the plant in Beaver County, PA, this cracker plant will take ethane and use heat to crack the molecules into ethylene and polyethylene, which is used to make plastics. Because of its location so close to the Ohio/West Virginia border, residents of both states attended the public hearing to express their concerns with the plant. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, and Freshwater Accountability Project have joined together to challenge the permit.

While the content of both permits is troubling, the manner in which they were issued was equally concerning. Agencies have a tendency to issue hot-button permits when they think people aren’t watching: The PTTGC permit was issued on December 21, and the Falcon permits were issued on December 20, 2018. This move is akin to the Trump administration’s release of a dire climate report on Black Friday - it is an obvious attempt to ensure that the people most concerned about an issue are distracted and unable to rally the public. This is cowardice in its most undemocratic form. If decision-makers are truly making decisions that are lawful and viewed to be what’s best for the people they serve, why the secrecy and circumvention of public input?

If these projects and the backroom dealings that allow them to move forward concern you, sign up here to join a growing coalition of individuals and organizations fighting to put people over petro. We need your voice in the fight.


Welcome Heaven

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Heaven Lee Sensky was born and raised on a small family farm in Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania where she has been an active community member in advocacy and non profit work since she was 13 years old. As a first generation college graduate, her passion to pave the way for others in her community encouraged her to pursue college in Washington, DC to study public policy and social structures. Heaven is a recent graduate of American University, where she studied Communications, Law Studies, Economics, and Government in addition to Women, Gender and Sexualities studies. She previously interned for The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, The American University Center for Diversity and Inclusion, United States Senator Bob Casey, and The Personal Office of Michelle and Barack Obama. After a very busy 3 ½ years in college, Heaven is eager to get to work protecting and defending Appalachia (and spending some much needed time with her new dog, Gizmo).

You can read more about Heaven in a recent article published by American University here.