Advocacy

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 Tuesday July 16 through Thursday July 18.  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.



Proposed Legislation Will Weaken Environmental Protections

Polen Run at Ryerson Station State Park

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 is 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.



Greene County’s Economy Must Work for Everyone

Photo of people at Washington, PA Peoples Climate, Jobs, and Justice March.

Photo of people at Washington, PA Peoples Climate, Jobs, and Justice March.

It is clear that our economy and communities are changing in Greene County. At the Center for Coalfield Justice, we acknowledge that the only way these changes will include everyone is if we are all working together. As a result, CCJ has launched a canvass in Waynesburg and Carmichaels, where we are going door to door in these two towns to talk to as many residents as we can about what they need to thrive in Greene County in the next 5-10 years. Do people need access to better-paying jobs? Do we need more investment in our children’s education? Are there adequate protections for our air, water, and public health?

The past has shown that we cannot always count on elected officials to ensure that proposed solutions address people’s needs. Through our launching of this campaign, we plan to build an avenue for everyone to participate in visioning our economic future. We believe that this will help ensure that our County Commissioners, State, and Federal Legislators know what our needs are and will allow us to better hold them accountable.

In addition to the canvass, we are hosting community conversations about what we need to support our families in the coming years. Join us for one of three workshops across the county to provide input on what types of jobs we need and how we can all act together to improve our communities. Here is the workshop schedule:

  • June 11th 6:30-8:30 in Waynesburg at the Corner Cupboard Food Bank (881 Rolling Meadows Rd, Waynesburg, PA)

  • June 12th 6:30-8:30 in Wind Ridge at the Richhill Firehall (120 Ferrell Ave, Wind Ridge, PA)

  • June 13th 6:30-8:30 in Carmichaels at the American Legion (205 E George Street, Carmichaels, PA)

During these conversations, we hope people will share their experience of living in Greene County, how they view the current local economy and access to jobs, and discuss what people need to support their families and thrive in our area. If you have any questions please call our office at 724-229-3550 or email Heaven at heaven@coalfieldjustice.org

Dinner will be served at the meetings starting at 6:00 PM and the program will start at 6:30 PM. There is space for 25 people at each workshop but if there is more interest than we have space, we will host additional meetings. We can provide childcare, travel support, and meet other access needs by request. Please note any needs in the registration form:

In addition, CCJ has been working with the Massachusetts Institute for Technology to research the status of our economy in relation to fossil fuel extraction. We have also worked with FracTracker to map the energy company-owned land in Greene County and will be publishing these results soon.

Request DEP Hold Public Meeting for Proposed Coal Refuse Disposal Area (Valley Fill)

Consol Energy currently operates six Coal Refuse Disposal Areas or better described as toxic valley fills. They have begun construction and waste disposal in a seventh valley fill destroying a beautiful and lush valley in Greene County. Now they are seeking another 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

This video shows one of these valleys fills side by side with footage before construction and after.

The permit under review is currently open for public comments and request for a public hearing. Take action below to request a public meeting and voice your questions and concerns to the DEP




Our Water Should Be Protected

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The following is a guest post written by Gillian Graber and the Protect PT team:

Why do we need to protect our waters?

Water is life. We depend on water for so many aspects of our lives. Yet our waters are some of the least protected entities in our state. While oil and gas companies contaminate our waters with their irresponsible practices, our state has refused to step in and protect our rights.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has refused to protect our rights to “clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment”, as guaranteed in our Pennsylvania Constitution. Instead, the PA DEP has prioritized gas developers over residents. Protect PT tried expressing our concerns to the PA DEP through letters and meetings, but the DEP continues to issue permits as if nothing is wrong.

This huge industry can break the law over and over again and not face the consequences, so what power do we have as residents to stop it? We are supposed to have an institution to enforce the law, but what happens when they don’t do their job?

We refuse to accept the Department’s refusal to protect your rights. We stand together and use our power which exists in our numbers and our knowledge. We spent over a year researching the actions of the PA DEP and identifying instances where they could have stepped in to protect our waters and didn’t. The PA DEP says they have the “discretion” to take enforcement action as they see fit. Do we, as residents have the discretion to not pay our taxes? Or break the law and not face consequences? No! Justice must be served. We felt the Attorney General of our state was the one to give us that justice.

So, we wrote to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, asking him to investigate the PA DEP’s irresponsible permitting and to enforce our Clean Streams Laws. But we didn’t stop there. We also wrote to Governor Tom Wolf.

And, we asked residents like you to join us in voicing your concerns by sending letters to the Attorney General and Governor. So far, almost 300 people have sent letters through Protect PT’s Action Network page.

Join your neighbors in voicing your concerns to the Attorney General and Governor. Together, we can make enough noise that they won’t be able to ignore us anymore. It’s time for us to stand together to protect our rights.

The stage is set for change. Right now, Attorney General Shapiro is bringing charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority for failing to notify residents of unsafe water and lead in the lines. Shapiro said we have rights to clean air and pure water and he is “here to defend that”.

It’s time we ask our Attorney General to make good on his promise to defend our rights! It’s time we demand change.

Permit to Use Beneficial Coal Ash to Reclaim Mine Waste Dump Under Review by DEP

The DEP is considering a permit application  for the beneficial use of stabilized flue gas desulfurization material (stabilized FGD or coal ash) at the over 400-acre Champion coal waste pile, the largest coal refuse pile east of the Mississippi, containing over 37 million tons of coal waste. The Champion Coal Refuse Pile is the lingering scar of Pittsburgh Coal Company’s Champion #1 coal washing operations.

Stabilized FGD, which is made by mixing by waste products from coal-fired power plants and lime or another alkaline agent, will be used in an effort to reclaim the Champion refuse pile. Stabilized FGD material will be placed on the site to promote drainage away from the waste pile and minimize filtration. This has the potential to improve the condition of the area significantly. However, if this process is not done safely and carefully, the material can be dangerous for the communities exposed to it.

According to the DEP, stabilized FGD is one way to help reclaim the coal refuse pile in Robinson Township, Washington County. However, it is important that this reclamation process is carried out safely, lawfully, and with public transparency.  Unfortunately, the permit application materials are only available in Harrisburg. Because the application materials are not available locally, we have several unanswered questions for the DEP about how they will ensure that our water, air, land, and people are not harmed by the transportation, processing and use of stabilized FDG at the Champion coal refuse pile.

Please take action below and request that the DEP hold a public meeting to provide our community vital access to information, relevant documents and plans, and answers to our questions.The DEP should also re-notice the public about this permit application, make the application materials available for review in Washington County, - and reopen or extend the public comment period so that our community’s feedback can be heard.

Send a letter to DEP using the form below:



Support Coal Miners, Urge Your Legislators to Reinstate the Black Lung Fund

Rates of Black Lung disease are on the rise in coal communities across Appalachia, but Congress allowed the excise tax that supports the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to be automatically slashed at the end of 2018. The trust fund, already struggling to remain solvent, would need an increase from 2018 levels in order to remain a stable funding source for miners suffering from this disease.

While black lung benefits were cut, continued inaction on the UMWA’s pension fund were driving it towards insolvency, too, which - union representatives claimed - would happen by 2022 without congressional action. In order to save the pension plan, an additional $260 million would be needed so that the fund could meet its current liabilities and help cover healthcare into the future.

Take action now, send a letter to your legislator below.



Black Lung Disability Fund in Jeopardy unless Congress Acts

Photo sourced from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/black-lung-disease-is-making-a-comeback-among-appalachian-miners/

Photo sourced from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/black-lung-disease-is-making-a-comeback-among-appalachian-miners/

Rates of Black Lung disease are on the rise in coal communities across Appalachia, but Congress is set to allow Black Lung Disability benefits to be jeopardized.  Congress has failed to pass an extension of current funding levels, but some members are fervently working to pass this extension as part of an appropriations bill up for a vote on December 21st. Congress must act to protect miners and pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.

Write a letter to your members of Congress today telling them to pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax before the holidays.

Black Lung, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling hazardous coal dust.  Companies that operate today pay for benefits for miners who suffer from Black Lung, but, when coal companies file for bankruptcy, miners are left without funds to cover the treatment for this horrible disease. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was designed to fill that gap: it places a small tax on each ton of coal produced, and that money is used to help struggling miners. However, in 2017 alone, more than 2,500 claims were transferred to the Trust Fund due to coal company bankruptcies. This important Trust Fund has been struggling to remain solvent as more people need assistance due to rising rates of Black Lung - and the situation is about to get worse in 2019 when the tax rate is scheduled to fall unless Congress acts now.

The Trust Fund has run at a horrible deficit since its inception and having the rates coal companies pay into the Trust Fund lowered will only drive this deficit up even higher and will continue to be a burden on taxpayers.  Coal companies should be paying more into this Trust Fund, not less. It is their work environments that can cause this disease, and more often than not, when a Coal Company goes bankrupt it will simply change its name and go back to mining operations under a different company name.  Coal companies, as a whole, would save roughly 3 million dollars a week if this bill extension does not happen.  That is 3 million more dollars a week that taxpayers would have to endure on behalf of the coal industry.

Please send a letter telling your members of Congress to pass an extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax with the appropriations bill before the holidays.


#KavaNOPE

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Recent allegations surrounding President Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh have flooded the news lately.  Numerous sexual assault claims have arisen in light of his nomination. I strongly believe that, for too many women, the meaning of being victimized by sexual assault has been lost or distorted or dismissed along the way.  The scrutiny these women are exposed to by bringing forth their claims is painstaking and unwarranted. Not only do they have to live their lives with these horrifying experiences in the back of their minds, but they are also then put under a microscope and made to relive and recreate these awful memories when they come forward.  

Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will be part of making crucial decisions that affect our nation's laws and our interpretations of the law.  Someone who has treated women this way throughout his life does not deserve to have decision-making power over our nation’s most important laws and values.

Additionally, as his background pertains to our environmental and social justice work,  Kavanaugh is an unfavorable candidate for a Supreme Court Justice. We do not need another extreme conservative on the Supreme Court who will not take environmental and human rights seriously. We know that he will not do so because he is willing to brush off these sexual assault accusations with such malice and opposition.  He has caused multiple women to uproot their lives and expose themselves and their families to harsh criticism, and he has treated them with disdain and contempt. This is unacceptable for someone who could potentially be on the highest court in our country. I prefer someone who clearly values all people’s rights and has good and moral ethics.  

We have a serious need for male leaders who respect women and will not dismiss or make light of sexual assault.  I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for women who have raised assault allegations against powerful men.  The battles they must face should not have to be endured by anyone. A good and just leader, in my opinion, respects the rights of ALL people.  No exceptions. Hopefully, in the future, we can learn from our present mistakes and faults.

-Nick Hood, Community Organizer

Send a letter to your Senator below:


CCJ Speaks Out at DEP and in California Borough

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On Thursday, September 6, 2018, the Center for Coalfield Justice bookended their day by making public statements and public comments on issues related to unconventional oil and gas development.

The day began at an event at the Department of Environmental Protection’s Southwest Regional Office in Pittsburgh, where the Breathe Project organized a press event to draw attention to the Falcon pipeline permits. The Falcon, which would transport natural gas liquids to the Shell Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County, PA, is still undergoing review by permit engineer Dana Drake, despite over 101 deficiencies found within the initial draft of the permit. Shell’s responses, as we’ve seen, remain inadequate. Our Campaign Manager, Sarah Maritk, spoke at the event, encouraging the DEP to stop wasting resources to permit this unnecessary infrastructure, saying “Continuing to issue deficiency letter after deficiency letter after deficiency letter to a multi-billion dollar corporation that should know what it’s doing and that has argued that it is capable of constructing and operating this pipeline is an absolute waste of taxpayer funds.” A video of this action is available online through NoPetroPA.

Want to take action and ask the DEP to #DenyTheFalcon? Send a letter via this link!

The day concluded in California Borough, where council members held a second public hearing for a revised draft of their proposed zoning ordinance. CCJ members and supporters spoke out about the lack of protective measures related to setback distances from compressor stations and well pads to protected structures. CCJ staff attorney, Sarah Winner, educated the Borough about the importance of considering Article I, Section 27 (the environmental rights amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution), while CCJ member and Borough resident reminded the Council that the decisions they make today have real consequences, saying “This isn’t like choosing who gets to play first base in Pony league. If something happens, you are the ones that have to live with it.”

To stay updated for to get involved in the campaign in California Borough, please email Sarah Martik at smartik@coalfieldjustice.org.