ACT 54

Governor Wolf Allows Senate Longwall Mining Bill to Pass into Law New Law Will Allow Companies to Destroy PA Streams and State Park

Harrisburg, PA--Governor Wolf allowed Senate Bill 624 to pass into law today. The bill creates an exemption to an 80-year-old law that protects streams and water supplies and will 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. Additionally, a portion of the bill stated that the act would have retroactively applied to permits dating back to October 8, 2005, including those that were subject of a pending appeal before the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) brought by the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club.

Introduced by Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) two weeks after receiving a $5k donation from Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol), SB 624 was 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 knowingly damage the streams that flow through the area. The new law will now directly impact issues under consideration by the EHB and allow Consol to destroy the remaining streams in the park.

The bill passed the Senate and the House with bipartisan opposition.

In a statement, Veronica Coptis, Executive Director at the Center for Coalfield Justice,  Joanne Kilgour, Pennsylvania Chapter Director for the Sierra Club and Sarah Winner, Staff Attorney at the Center for Coalfield Justice said:

“Governor Tom Wolf supported legislation that sacrificed the constitutional rights of his constituents for Consol’s private gain,” Coptis said. “Governor Wolf, you have failed as a progressive leader and allowed an environmental justice community that has already been damaged by corporate greed, to suffer another blow, destroying our already compromised public park and any future economic opportunities.”

“Governor Wolf, you have made it clear where your priorities lie and it’s not with the people, with local communities or with the environment. You have signaled to corporations that they can blatantly disregard the law if they line politician’s pockets,” Kilgour said. “Thank you to the Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle that stood with Greene County and all future communities that will be devastated by this atrocious law - it is a shame that the Governor did not stand with you.”

“We believe the amendments are unconstitutional and we are evaluating all of our options to take action to protect Pennsylvanians’ environmental rights,” Winner said.

Support the fight to protect Pennsylvanians' environmental rights by making a targeting dontation here: 

https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/donate-to-protect-ryerson-station-state-park-from-coal-mining?source=direct_link&

 

Send Governor Tom Wolf a Letter Urging Him to Veto SB 624

Last week, the state legislature passed SB 624, which will allow longwall coal mining operators to predict total flow loss in Pennsylvania streams as long as they promise to fix them. The bill was specifically introduced to counter legal arguments made in our pending litigation to protect streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park from predicted subsidence-induced damage. Now, it is up to Governor Wolf to veto SB 624 by July 21st and protect Pennsylvania's parks and streams. SB 624 is an exemption that would only be made for longwall coal mining operators - not for anyone else and violates our environmental rights in the PA Constitution.  For the health of our streams and for the communities in which they flow, we cannot let this bill become law. Governor Wolf is our last line of defense and we need you to urge him to veto SB 624.

Greene County Residents Urge Governor to Veto SB 624

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.”

 

 

Senate Passes Mine Pollution Exemption

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."

Longwall Mining Bill Passes in PA House, Awaits Decision from Gov. Wolf

 Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

Ryerson Station State Park (Photo Credit: Sarah Winner)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, June 26, 2017

CONTACT

Veronica Coptis, 724-833-8624, veronica@coalfieldjustice.org

Emily Pomilio, 202-395-3041, emily.pomilio@sierraclub.org

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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.”

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Environmental Groups, Locals Speak Out Against Bill Threatening to Harm PA Streams

 CCJ and Sierra Club Press Conference at Capitol (Photo Credit: Tom Torres)

CCJ and Sierra Club Press Conference at Capitol (Photo Credit: Tom Torres)

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.

Our Streams Under Attack - Fight Back!

 North Fork Dunkard Fork flowing under Iron Bridge in Ryerson Station State Park 

North Fork Dunkard Fork flowing under Iron Bridge in Ryerson Station State Park 

Last month Senate Bill 624 (SB 624) was introduced as a direct response to our litigation that is protecting the streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park. SB 624 attempts to exempt predicted damage to streams from the Clean Streams Law for underground coal mine companies, creating an unconstitutional special rule for them. It appears to be a last ditch effort by Consol to ensure that they can continue destroying our streams in our park.

Contact Your Senator Now

Take action now and urge your Senator to oppose SB 624 and stand up for Pennsylvania Streams. No other industry in Pennsylvania is allowed to predict damage to streams and promise to clean it up afterward.  Coal companies should not be exempted from the laws that protect Pennsylvania streams.

SB 624 is too big a threat for our streams to stay home, so we are bringing our fight to Harrisburg this time. Making it clear that Pennsylvanians do not want their streams destroyed for private profits. Join CCJ and Sierra Club on Tuesday, May 23rd for a Rally in our capitol demanding that our Senators kill this bill and protect our streams. We will be providing transportation from Washington, PA, and Pittsburgh, PA, call 724-229-3550 to get a ride to Harrisburg.

Register for Rally!

What will Senate Bill 624 Change?

Senator Joe Scarnati and Senator Gene Yaw introduced Senate Bill No. 624 (SB 624) last month, and it is now before the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. SB 624 proposes amendments to the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (commonly referred to as Act 54 or the Mine Subsidence Act). Senator Scarnati’s Chief Counsel, Drew Compton, recently acknowledged that SB 624 is in direct response to the permit appeals filed by CCJ and Sierra Club that are currently pending before the Environmental Hearing Board (“EHB”). SB 624 comes on the eve of a decision from the EHB and is a blatant 11th hour attempt to bypass the authority and expertise of the Environmental Hearing Board Judges.

Pennsylvania has a detailed statutory and regulatory scheme in place to protect streams – the Clean Streams Law and the regulations promulgated thereunder. Section 9.1(d) of the Mine Subsidence Act expressly requires underground coal mine operators to comply with the Clean Streams Law. It is hardly extraordinary that industries and individuals in Pennsylvania must comply with multiple laws.

Currently, Section 5(e) of the Mine Subsidence Act does not override the Clean Streams Law and other legal authority that protect streams in Pennsylvania. In fact, Section 5(e) does not even mention water resources. Section 5(e) imposes obligations on underground coal mine operators that were not previously imposed by the Mine Subsidence Act. The Generally Assembly required mining companies, through the permitting process, to adopt technologically and economically feasible measures to prevent material damage to surface structures when planning to mine coal underground. Therefore, Section 5(e) limits a mining company’s obligation to provide protection for surface structures to economic and technologically feasible means, but it does not guarantee a mining company an absolute right to longwall mine coal where that mining would violate other applicable provisions of Pennsylvania Law - and for good reason.

The goal of Senate Bill No. 624 is clear: revise Section 5(e) and 9.1(d) to say that nothing in these subsections, statute, or any other statute enacted by the Generally Assembly was intended to prohibit or restrict longwall coal mining in Pennsylvania.  The proposed revisions seek to drastically change the Department’s express authority and obligation to protect against predicted flow loss in streams.  

Currently, the Department is obligated to protect a stream’s aquatic life uses and the community’s ability to use and enjoy the stream from predicted harm.  SB 624 seeks to limit the Department’s authority in the longwall mining context to evaluating post-mining stream mitigation plans when total flow loss is predicted by the applicant. Under SB 624, the Department’s primary and almost exclusive obligation would be to require operators to mitigate predicted harm after it occurs rather than preventing the predicted harm from occurring in the first place. Not so surprisingly, Consol advanced this interpretation of the Department’s duties in the pending permit appeals before the Environmental Hearing Board.

At the heart of the pending appeals and SB 624 is whether Consol’s right to longwall mine trumps the protections set forth in the Clean Streams Law, the mining regulations, and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. We believe that Consol’s right to longwall mine coal should not trump your right to go fishing on a beautiful morning or enjoy a quiet walk along a stream, particularly when reasonable alternatives exist that would protect your rights.