Education

Buffalo Creek Watershed Association to Hold a Fish Electroshocking Event

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The Buffalo Creek Watershed Association (BCWA) will be hosting a Fish Shocking at Santiago Sportsman Club on Thursday, September 12th.  The location is 749 Lake Road, Claysville, PA, and the event will begin at 5:30 p.m.  Mr. Greg Schaetzle from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy will be conducting the fish shocking.  

Fish electroshocking is a great experience for young folks, anglers, and others to see what species of fish, and approximately how many of them, live in our local streams.  The process may sound harmful, but the fish are only momentarily stunned. The shocking allows observers to see the diversity of fish populations in streams and offers a great opportunity to see them up close!  

This is an exciting opportunity for local residents to come out and interact with a local watershed group and to learn about the local environment and wildlife. There will also be light refreshments and snacks.  Please come and join us!  


Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

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Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, but many people don’t know why it’s a holiday. However, we shouldn’t forget the hard-won victories of the labor movement, which began in the late 19th century. Massive unrest resulted, many events turned violent, and a lot of people lost their lives. It has taken many years of agitating and organizing by dedicated labor activists to get us to where we are today, and many of us enjoy their victories, which include the 8-hour workday, increased pay, and much safer working conditions. 

Coal was first mined in Pittsburgh in 1760. Fast forward to the late 1800s, and the average American was still working 12-hour days, seven days a week, in order to eke out a meager living. Also, despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories, and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.

Though the “restrictions” now seem ludicrous to us, in 1849, Pennsylvania became one of the few pioneering states to address the issue of child labor by restricting children to a 10-hour workday and sixty hours per week. Children under twelve were also prohibited from working in textile factories, while those under sixteen were permitted to work provided that they attended school for three months each year. But the law was poorly enforced and child labor continued to spread.

People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities, and breaks. Many lost their lives in workplace disasters. Over the decades, people fought for the right to unionize, and then, labor unions began to organize strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. 

Labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones led child workers in demanding a fifty-five-hour workweek in 1903. Born in Ireland, Jones was an organizer and inspiring presence in the U.S. coal, steel, and textile labor movements. In 1919, she was arrested and jailed in the city of Homestead for speaking to striking steelworkers.

On August 26, 1919, United Mine Workers (UMW) organizer Fannie Sellins was gunned down by company guards in the town of Brackenridge, PA, on the eve of a nationwide steel strike,. Her devotion to the workers’ cause made her an important symbolic figure. Both she and Joseph Starzelski, a miner who was also killed that same day, were buried in Union Cemetery, where a monument to the pair was erected.

Fast forward again to 1963, when the federal government enacted the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage differences for workers based on sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

On December 31, 1969—shortly after his defeat as a reform candidate for president of the UMW—Joseph A. “Jock” Yablonski, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Charlotte were assassinated in Clarksville, PA. A resident of California, PA, Jock had led efforts to improve working conditions for coal miners. Later, in 1972, reformers were elected to the leadership of the UMW and led to the founding of Miners for Democracy.

This brief history has barely touched on the contributions of countless men and women who have worked tirelessly for all of us to enjoy the rights that we have today. From its very beginning, the U.S. labor movement has been about more than just getting its members a few cents more an hour in wages. It has included both native- and foreign-born leaders, workers who are immigrants as well as citizens, and elements who have not been afraid to challenge the legitimacy of the wages system itself. The work is not done. We have to continue to be vigilant to try to ensure that people are treated fairly, working conditions are safe, employers and corporations are held accountable, our environment is taken care of, and all people have access to jobs where they can earn a living wage. On that note, enjoy your Labor Day, brought to you by your local, national, and global labor movement!


CCJ Members Learn with People from Across Pennsylvania about the Climate Crisis

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CCJ staff, Heaven and Veronica, with members Will Behm, Rick Heinze, Dwayne Thomas, and George Barnhart, attended a state-wide “Climate Equity Table” meeting in Harrisburg on August 20th. The meeting was attended by members and staff of various organizations working across the state on a range of issues from criminal justice to immigrant rights and economic justice.

A recently formed PA Climate Equity Table has been formed to connect communities across the state building power among marginalized communities to lead on passing equitable climate and environmental policies. Current organizations at the table are One Pennsylvania, Make the Road PA, Keystone Progress, CASA, POWER, and CCJ.

Overall, the meeting was informative and promising as the climate crisis can only be addressed if we all work together and focus on the root causes which will also improve many inequalities in our communities.

"I found [the climate table] to be a very empowering experience. I was able to grasp the true scope and interdependence of issues in Pennsylvania with which I have no contact, while also acknowledging the importance of the issues that affect my local community. I was amazed to find that everyone was willing to embrace their differences and contribute their unique experiences to a movement that knows no boundaries."

-Will Behm, Waynesburg, PA

If you are interested in getting involved with the Climate Table work CCJ is engaging in across the state, you can direct your questions to Nick Hood at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or call at 724-229-3550 ext. 104.


Thanks for a Great Member Meeting!

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Our July member and supporter meeting was well attended, with plenty food and good conversation. Thank you to all who came; we enjoyed seeing and talking with each one of you! During the meeting, we heard from Garrett Hoover, a graduate student in biology at West Liberty University who is helping us with water monitoring. We also watched a short film on environmental justice, including how it’s tied into other forms of justice and how we can accomplish big, important things when we work together! The post-film discussion was inspiring!

At CCJ, we’re always working to find ways to empower, educate, organize, and advocate for people in the communities we serve, and we look forward to seeing and talking with you soon. We will be tabling at the Washington County Fair in Building 1 all this week. Stop and see us if you can!  Also, don’t forget to add the date of our next meeting to your calendar: August 27th from 6-8 p.m.!

On retirement, and keeping in mind the words of Margaret Mead

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The Heinze family

Thank you to Rick Heinze, a CCJ member and supporter, for this contribution to our What’s on your mind? blog series!

It’s a little frustrating that my retirement activities aren’t what I dreamed they would be. In my dreams, I was going to visit exotic places, improve my birding skills, learn to play the banjo I bought 25 years ago at a garage sale, take interesting college courses on the internet (e.g., western PA history), and learn to throw my atlatl. The rest and relaxation that I had earned through working in my younger years would now become my life. 

I have always considered myself an environmentalist. I saved water, recycled items, bought a car that gets good gas mileage, reduced/reused/recycled, and took part in other actions that I hoped would make the world a better place. Then the climate crisis became real, and it was obvious that doing those activities was not nearly enough. The Paris Accords, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and many other scholarly studies and discussions on the climate made this abundantly clear. I could no longer rest and relax during my retired life knowing that the planet my grandchildren were to grow up on would be so dramatically different than the nature and the outdoors that I had so loved during my own life. For example, millions of people will be (and are being) uprooted from their homes. Others will no longer be able to grow food because of the warming environment and the uncertainty of rain (or an excess of rain).

So I decided that, for the sake of my precious granddaughter and the children of her generation, I must get more involved in teaching people about this crisis and helping them to understand that, though we thought this crisis would happen 30 years from now, we are already experiencing it. I have always done the easier things, such as educating myself on climate change and donating money to the right causes (CCJ, Sierra Club, Climate Reality). But, as we are learning, this is not enough. Money is helpful, but our time is precious! I am trying to get out there and become really involved in supporting the changes that will be necessary to reverse or slow down the damage we have caused. I am doing things that I am not comfortable doing, such as running in an election and knocking on doors in my community so that I can talk to people. Right now I’m trying to build up the courage (and find some support) in order to picket my state senator’s office after her party passed some very troubling legislation which will increase water pollution in our area. Will any of my activities matter? Who knows, but I have to try. I can only hope that anthropologist Margaret Mead was right in her assertion that we should “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  With the support of CCJ and you, I can become a committed citizen and hopefully make a positive difference!

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)

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

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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