Education

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.

Join Us for CCJ's May Open House

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Each month, the staff of the Center for Coalfield Justice looks forward to hosting our CCJ Community Open House because you - our members and supporters - are the heart of our organization. You are why CCJ exist, and you help to guide our plans and actions.

At last month’s meeting, Veronica Coptis, our Executive Director, presented on the history of CCJ and how we approach working with communities. This month, Nick Hood, one of our community organizers, is going to present our new Fracking in the Coalfields Virtual Tour! This tour has been quite a while in the making, and we look forward to watching it with you and hearing your thoughts and comments.

CCJ’s Community Open House is held on the last Tuesday of each month in our office from 6-8 p.m. This month, the date is May 28th, and CCJ will be providing sandwiches and drinks. Any other contributions of food or drink are welcome!

For the month of May, we are making an additional ask of our members and supporters: please bring some nonperishables for the Waynesburg Food Bank, the Corner Cupboard, who has generously agreed to host one of our Economic Workshops in Greene County on June 11th.

If you’re able to join us, please let us know by emailing or calling Lisa DePaoli, our Outreach Coordinator, at lisa@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext 101 or commenting on the Facebook event page. As always, our meetings are held in our office at 14 E. Beau Street, Washington, PA.

We look forward to seeing you!


Remember Today and All Days to Care for Our Environment

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Earth Day is the most celebrated secular holiday in the world.  We all live, work, play, love and depend on this planet. Today is a day to celebrate our planet and perhaps find a way to replenish it and clean it up.

You might consider some of these ideas for you on Earth Day: plant trees or flowers, clean up a roadside or park, go for a walk at a stream, make a rain barrel, make a recycling bin, make bird feeders and/or share your knowledge!

Let Earth Day activities inspire you to make permanent changes in your life. Decide on new, eco-friendly habits and try your best to implement them throughout the year. While Earth Day is one day out of the year to focus on the environment, it takes daily dedication to create long-lasting positive change.  Every little bit counts, and these little things can add up to massive changes.

Today we urge you to soak in the beauty of this planet and to think about how we want to leave it for the generations that follow.


Tour Reflection by Alexandra Cheek

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Alex is a geology student at California University of Pennsylvania who is interning with The Center for the spring semester. Last week, she went on CCJ’s “Fracking and the Coalfields” tour with Executive Director Veronica Coptis. Below are her reflections on the experience.

An Afternoon in the Coalfields

We were standing in Enon Cemetery on a snowy, overcast morning. There amongst the gravestones and coal, I listened to Veronica tell the story of the Bailey Mine Complex that loomed over us with its twinkling lights and industrial clatter. As the largest underground mining operation in North America, the Pennsylvania Mining Complex (Bailey, Harvey and Enlow Fork) longwall mining operation is just about the size of Manhattan, but underfoot. We discussed “clean coal”, which, spoiler alert, doesn’t exist, and how intertwined southwestern PA’s people and politics are with the coal industry.

Over the course of the afternoon, we navigated through Greene and Washington counties, following well traffic all over rural southwestern Pennsylvania. Looking out the window were signs that directed the different energy corporations down the winding, crumbling, nearly single lane country roads to their respective well pads. If you weren’t in the direct path of a brine or water truck though, you could look in almost any direction and see the familiar shape of a drilling rig in the distance. We visited valley fills with their earthen dams holding back surface mining refuse, on the hillsides stark gaps in the trees where pipelines were constructed. I can’t imagine that most of the residents within these counties could have envisioned the long term effects that mining or the shale gas boom would have on the infrastructure, air quality or the landscape in their towns, let alone the not too distant future environmental impacts.

As a geology student, resource extraction and the positive and negative impacts associated with them is something that’s discussed pretty regularly, though it’s not quite the same as visiting an area that has truly been affected by it. As we hit one of our last stops, Ryerson Station State Park, Veronica talked about the emotional ties that she and many others in the area have with the park and the grief they experienced after the loss of Duke Lake. If you’re not familiar with the story of Duke Lake, in 2004 the 62-acre lake needed an emergency drawdown after cracks occurred in the dam as a result of subsidence from longwall mining operations. Duke Lake had been a hub of activity for many residents who enjoyed fishing there during the summer.

After the tour, I tried to imagine what it would be like to look out my window or drive down the road and every day encounter all of these impacts and not feel totally despondent. Or perhaps even worse, not realize the full impact on my health or environment because it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s not by chance that this type of development occurs here, and the fact that this area is abundant in resources isn’t the only reason. The areas where extraction is occurring most are often areas of poverty, without access to educational resources to make the decisions at hand or the legal resources/support to make them aware of their rights or defend them when necessary. Going on the tour gave me a personal insight to the issues that are the norm in Washington and Greene County. If you have the opportunity to chat with a CCJ team member or request a tour, I would strongly recommend doing so.


Why the coalfields need a Green New Deal

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This week, the Office of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released the “Green New Deal Resolution.” The resolution outlines the goals, motivations, and responsibilities of the Green New Deal: a call for a collective effort to respond to climate change in a way that takes into account the economic, environmental, and social justice implications of changing climate conditions.

“A bold vision is desperately needed in our current climate and economic crisis. It is critical that as the resolution turns into policy, we listen to workers and frontline community members to drive the solutions” - Veronica Coptis, Center for Coalfield Justice Executive Director

Living in the coalfields, we all know that a plan to fight climate change won’t work unless it takes into account the needs of those most at risk - those who live with the everyday impact of pollution, environmental degradation, or resource extraction. We live in a place where our environmental concerns are inseparable from our economic concerns. The Green New Deal resolution has evolved over time to be more inclusive of communities like ours - and we support its language about fair transitions for our workers, diversifying our economy, and giving power to frontline communities.

We want to draw attention to a few of the Green New Deal’s resolutions and goals that make us particularly hopeful about the potential of this. We are excited to envision a future where our government is accountable to these principles.

The resolution calls for, with “transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline communities,” a government-launched mobilization to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.” We are particularly engaged by the aim of a just transition. We believe that a fair economic transition is possible for our region’s future - and with national support for our transition this future becomes even more possible. The resolution explains what this transition would require:

“And be it further resolved, that to achieve the Green New Deal goals, a Green New Deal will require… directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and any communities, such as those reliant on greenhouse-gas intensive industries, that may otherwise struggle with the transition”

For those of us living on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction, climate/environmental justice is inseparable from economic justice. If we consider energy, we must also consider the people involved in and affected by the energy industry; if we want to build resilience to environmental change, we must also build a diverse and resilient economy. The New Green Deal strives to address both climate change and economic inequality. Through this, it gives our community hope for a better future.

Contact us if you want to discuss this in more detail.


Give us your feedback for a chance to win a prize!

We all filled out the survey! Will you?

We all filled out the survey! Will you?

The team at the Center for Coalfield Justice is excited to announce that we will be holding quarterly meetings for our members and supporters! (Our first one is March 21st) You are the center of our work; without you, we wouldn’t exist. This year we want to engage more directly in person with you.

Please fill out the survey below to guide our planning for these quarterly meetings and help us to have a better understanding of how you may want to get involved. There are so many fun and exciting things we could do!

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.


Residents in Footprint of Tunnel Ridge Learn Proactive Steps to Protect Homes and Water Supplies

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The Center for Coalfield Justice along with friends from the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association held an “Undermining for Residents Workshop” at the Donegal Township Municipal Building in the evening on Wednesday 14, 2018 and nearly forty (40) people attend.

Tunnel Ridge LLC has been permitted to longwall mine a swath of coal underneath an area of West Alexander, and residents are concerned about what may happen to their water supplies and structures, such as their houses and farm buildings, after being undermined.  CCJ’s staff attorney Sarah Winner helped describe steps for residents to take that can help them protect their water sources and structures on their property.

Community members were engaged, asked questions and talked amongst themselves in hopes to better understand what the potential impacts of being undermined are and how they can ensure that Tunnel Ridge LLC is held responsible for any post-mining damages to their property and water supplies due to ground subsidence, which is the caving in of the ground after the coal seam is removed.    

If you have any questions or would like any information regarding the Tunnel Ridge longwall mine expansion into West Finley and Donegal Townships, please contact Nick at the Center for Coalfield Justice at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 extension 104.  The Buffalo Creek Watershed Association can also be contacted at info@buffalocreekwatershed.org.