Environmental Justice

OnePA EJ Team Learns about Environmental Injustice in PA Coalfields

 CCJ Executive Director, Veronica, describing the Coal Refuse Disposal Area or toxic valley fills to One PA Environmental EJ Team. 

CCJ Executive Director, Veronica, describing the Coal Refuse Disposal Area or toxic valley fills to One PA Environmental EJ Team. 

On Earth Day we want to challenge you to learn about the impacts to our environment and people's health in your region. This year we provided a coalfield tour to One Pennsylvania's Environmental Justice Team to help show folks living in Pittsburgh how fossil fuel extraction just a short drive outside the city impacts not just the climate but also city's air and water quality. The attendees were shocked at the scale of the impacts on people and saw many connections to their communities where corporations are also putting their profits before people. At the Center for Coalfield Justice, we are excited to continue bridging the divide between our communities and communities in Pittsburgh. Together we can achieve healthy communities with thriving economies where all our folks have access to clean water, clean air, outdoor spaces, and healthy jobs. Make a donation today and support bringing rural and urban communities together

Anti-Falcon Support at DEP Hearings

Nearly 500 concerned residents of Beaver, Washington, and Allegheny Counties gathered on April 3, 4, and 5 in their respective counties to raise their concerns over the Falcon Pipeline. CCJ attended the hearings in Beaver and Washington Counties to represent our members and supporters.

Specific to Washington County, CCJ is concerned that the pipeline will be built in an area where subsidence places the integrity of the pipeline at a greater risk, and therefore would place those living in the pipeline’s path at a greater risk. In 2015, an ATEX pipeline in West Virginia ruptured, causing an explosion which damaged the nearest house 700 feet away. Subsidence in Washington County can be difficult to predict for two reasons: first, a lot of mining within the county happened a long time ago, and mine maps for these legacy areas are not always accurate and are sometimes nonexistent; also, if mining utilized room and pillar techniques, the surface may not have subsided yet, meaning that the subsidence event could still happen. Washington County also has large karst formations, which are responsible for the sinkholes that are a growing problem with the Mariner East pipeline. Karst also allows pollutants to travel swiftly and widely, meaning that a spill in a karst-heavy area would affect a larger area than in an area where there is no underlying karst. These more localized issues, coupled with the broader effects to the Pittsburgh region, raise the question of whether Shell can safely build, operate, and maintain this pipeline.

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One of CCJ’s major concerns over the proposed plans for the Falcon Pipeline is the fact that, should the pipeline leak and contaminate the headwaters of the Ambridge Reservoir, 30,000 people would be without safe drinking water. The lack of safe drinking water is already an issue that affects so many across the country, whether by lead pipes or de-watered wells, and it is unconscionable that we would add to this crisis by permitting an unnecessary pipeline.

While anti-Falcon residents were in the majority at these hearings, a group of pro-Falcon residents were also in attendance. Predominantly industry representatives or union workers, stressed the importance of new jobs for reviving the Rust Belt. “Jobs” was not the only pro-Falcon claim made at these hearings: check out our infographic to see just what was said and how the major points were not quite accurate.



Going Solar!

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CCJ is now a partner at Solar United Neighbors of Pennsylvania, a group that helps develop and manage co-ops within communities so that people have access to solar energy at a more affordable cost. By joining together, community members are able to create a demand for a large amount products, which contractors can then order in bulk to save on cost. Because we are organizing within a geographic location, contractors also save time and money on travel, which results in an additional cost-saving for co-op members.

To get involved, join CCJ and Solar United Neighbors at an informational meeting on Wednesday, March 28 from 6:00-7:30 at W&J’s Swanson Science Center (Room 005).

For more information on Solar United Neighbors, visit their website or call our office at 724-229-3550.

The Plastics Problem


Last week, our Community Organizer, Sarah, participated in a meeting in Houston, TX to learn more about plastics and to discuss the various ways that groups across the country can come together to support anti-plastics work at every part of the plastics chain. Here are her thoughts:

After visiting Houston, I’ve come to the daunting conclusion that it is impossible to go through everyday actions without touching or using plastic. I’m so much more aware of it now, from the various types of plastics in my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup to the plastics in the microfiber cloth I keep in my car to wipe the coffee I inevitably spill when trying to drink hot coffee while driving. Throughout the plastics chain, we live with varying degrees of plastics exposure, with some experiencing different elements of it than others. Because we live in the shale fields, we live with unconventional oil and gas activity in our backyards. The natural gas liquids are then sent to a “cracker” plant to be turned into plastics. At the point of sale, plastics allow processors to ship foods over long distances to be sold (think: salads and sandwiches at Starbucks that were made in Rhode Island instead of in-store). Consumers then purchase products made of or packaged in plastics, sometimes in overwhelming quantities (think: meal-prep delivery services like Blue Apron and low-priced microfiber bedsheets). Plastic is then either recycled, incinerated, or tossed in landfills or the ocean. Even some plastics that consumers think they are recycling end up being burned, contributing more carbon pollution to the air than coal-fired power plants. In the end, our water is either full of plastic bags and bottle caps or microparticles of plastic that were washed into our water systems. Like I said, it’s daunting.

This is a monster of a system that has been in place for decades. The task we now face in the Ohio River Valley is to stop another head from growing. The Petrochemical buildout that is planned for this region is designed to support an increase in plastics production and use. At CCJ, we fight it from the source by supporting communities’ efforts to keep unconventional oil and gas activity away from homes and schools while advocating for a just, sustainable future that does not rely on fossil fuels. Other groups and organizations like Break Free From Plastic, Upstream, and GAIA work to tackle the problem from other points in the chain.

The good news is this: there was consensus among the groups in this meeting that now is a real opportunity to affect change. On a nation-wide scale, people are becoming more aware of the problem, and are interested in learning more about how to tackle it. There are so many small changes you can make to your daily life that would make a difference. There are massive campaigns you can take part in to elevate your voice in favor of a cleaner earth fueled by cleaner energy. To find out more, and to take action, check out Upstream’s website or contact us at the office.

How should communities cope with the end of coal?

 Photo of PA Route 18 (Photo Credit: Jon Dawson)

Photo of PA Route 18 (Photo Credit: Jon Dawson)

Amelia Urry, Grist

"The Mon Valley in western Pennsylvania was once at the center of an industrial revolution that put the United States on the map, but you might have trouble picking out some of its towns on that map now.

“These communities have been neglected by everybody,” says Veronica Coptis, the executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice and a longtime resident of Greene County. She grew up among the emptied-out towns that first sprung up beside the steel factories and coal mines that once lined the Monongahela River for miles.

Now those steel plants are gone, and many of the mines have closed. The coal mines still in operation are largely mechanized, operated by an ever-dwindling number of non-unionized laborers. The Center for Coalfield Justice, based in Greene and Washington Counties, works to protect the rights of people living in mining towns, filing legal challenges and advocating for better policy from the state government."

Read the full article at Grist. 

Why CCJ Participated in Action at Southpointe to Hold Fossil Fuel Companies Accountable


This past weekend, some CCJ staff, board members, and regular volunteers participated in the People Vs. Oil and Gas Summit as well as at an action in Southpointe. We want to take the time to share a little of what we learned and to explain our participation in the action.  

The Summit itself was an inclusive space where people from various backgrounds from across the country - and even Canada and the United Kingdom - joined in on an educational and collaborative weekend discussing our experiences with the fossil fuel industry and planning next steps to better work together to combat threats to our communities.  One way that CCJ hopes to become more involved in some of the bigger threats to our region is to begin working with groups in the area to stop the Royal Dutch Shell Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver Co. While this may not directly affect us in Greene and Washington Counties, the increase in fracking in our communities will affect all of us. We also plan to share a wider variety of stories with you, our members and supporters, to help you be more aware of the scope of the environmental justice struggle in our country. We are working on building on the connections we’ve made to bring more solutions to the problems we face in Greene and Washington Counties.

The most newsworthy part of this past weekend was the action at Southpointe. The action, which was separate from the Summit, had two parts: a pre-approved march throughout Southpointe, which organizer Sarah participated in, and a blockade of a major road within Southpointe. In our communities fossil fuel extraction disrupts our lives every day. The noise produced from fracking can be stressful to the point of being unbearable, and no one likes being hounded by persistent and aggressive landmen to sign leases. When we’ve stood up for our rights in the past, we’ve done so where we live, and in many of those cases we were ignored because the people in the industry who make the calls that affect us so drastically do not live in our communities. The goal of this action was to show those in the fossil fuel industry what it’s like to spend your daily life in a place with constant disturbance. The march lasted for about two hours, and the road blockade was held for four hours before two activists were arrested - which was intended. On this one Monday morning the people working for these energy companies felt the same traffic impacts those of us on the frontlines of fracking and mining feel everyday.  

The rhetoric from the industry, of our being radicals and not basing our claims on facts or science, surrounding the action at Southpointe is not unexpected. But clearly it is not a “radical” concept that property owners should be able to make choices about their own land. It is not “inflammatory” to point out that our water has been taken away and polluted because of fossil fuel extraction. There are no “facts” or “science” to support the need to further develop fossil fuels; in fact, facts, science, and math would indicate that a transition to a renewable energy economy would be the best possible option for our country. As for Pennsylvania values, we suggest that the industry take a look at Article 1, Section 27 of our PA constitution.

We thank you for the support you’ve all given us in the past which allowed us to take on such visible roles in the Summit and the action. We hope you know that CCJ will always take on the fights that matter so much to our communities.

-Veronica and Sarah

P.S. Support our two friends who got arrested defending our rights by donating to their legal fund.

Become a Community Advocate Training Series


Have you been concerned about your rights being taken away and struggled to figure out how to get involved? The Center for Coalfield Justice is hosting a FREE training series that will teach you how to share your story, organize more people into a community action group, and implement a campaign to defend our environmental and human rights.  

The training series will be held the last four Monday nights in October from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM in the CCJ office (184 S Main St. Washington, PA 15301). We will provide all training materials and refreshments for the evening. Register for all the trainings or for specific sessions by following this link.

Session #1 -- Monday, October 9 -- Telling Your Story

Learn important public speaking skills and explore how your own personal life relates to the issue around which you want to organize.

Session #2 -- Monday, October 16 -- Creating a Community Group and Campaign Planning

Learn how to develop a campaign by finding others who care about the same issue and taking actions together.

Session #3 -- Monday, October 23 -- Talking with Media and Decision Makers

Learn useful tactics when speaking to members of the media and decision makers and how to make your story compelling to a specific audience.

Session #4 -- Monday, October 30 -- Funding Your Group

Learn about grassroots and organizational funding options to help support your group’s efforts.

These trainings are just the start of developing your skills to create change in your community. CCJ and our allies will continue to provide support after you attend the trainings and begin using your skills to protect our rights.

Register Below: 

Protect Streams in Ryerson Station State Park from Coal Mining

Consol Energy's Bailey Mine destroyed Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park over ten years ago, and it will never be restored. Ryerson Station State Park is the only state park in Greene County, PA. Now Consol wants to get authorization from the state to undermine more of our water resources, putting in jeopardy the last remaining fishing opportunities in the State Park. Polen Run above the 4L and 5L Panels of the Bailey Lower East Expansion is located in the State Park. Consol predicts that longwall mining will cause total flow loss within the stream. Subsidence induced-flow loss and post-mining stream remediation efforts will eliminate recreational and aquatic life uses of Polen Run within the Park. Our community has sacrificed enough for Consol's private profits, and it is time the DEP and Governor Tom Wolf stand with environmental justice communities and stand by the constitution to protect our natural resources. Sign the petition below demanding the DEP deny the pending application and protect the streams in Ryerson Station State Park.

The New Yorker: The Future of Coal Country

 Bailey Mine Prep Plant (Photo Credit: CCJ)

Bailey Mine Prep Plant (Photo Credit: CCJ)

By Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker

One Sunday morning, just after deer-hunting season ended, Veronica Coptis, a community organizer in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania, climbed onto her father’s four-wheeler. She set off for a ridge a quarter of a mile from her parents’ small farmhouse, where she was brought up with her brother and two sisters. “Those are coyote tracks,” she called over the engine noise, pointing down at a set of fresh paw prints.

At the crest of the ridge, she stopped along a dirt track and scanned in both directions for security guards. Around her stretched a three-mile wasteland of valleys. Once an untouched landscape of white oak and shagbark hickory, it now belonged to Consol Energy and served as the refuse area for the Bailey Mine Complex, the largest underground coal mine in the United States.

Read full story at the New Yorker

King Coal certainly ruled our past, but it does not have to rule our future.

 Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Dear Representative Snyder,

As you said in your op-ed, coal has fueled our economy, has won wars for us, and has continued to play a leading role in our energy production. You’re right on all counts. However, coal has also resulted in thousands of cases of black lung, has destroyed water supplies, and has seen a rapid decline in investment in the past decade.  As a lifelong resident of Washington County (ironically, of Coal Center), I grew up in a mined-out legacy area, where there are dump piles directly next to baseball fields and where people still live in the old row-houses that were part of company towns.  As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I know just how important coal has been to our area and to my own family. I am also painfully aware of the fact that we desperately need to change the way we produce energy else we leave behind a terrible planet for the next generation.

Representative Snyder, you say that coal is a resource “deserving more respect, investment, and consideration by many whose homes and businesses are heated, cooled, and lighted by the very resource they disparage.” What investment are you referencing here? There exist – today – technologies that could produce zero-carbon emissions from power plants that burn coal.  Why are we not investing in these?  Do you expect the utility companies to implement and pay for these changes on their own - without pushing the cost to ratepayers?  Will the legislature pass a law mandating the use of these technologies?  If so, is the state willing to pick up the tab for investing in these technologies? And what about respect for residents and their choice?  We heat our homes with electricity from coal and natural gas because those are the only options available to us in our energy market.  All residents can do to make our carbon footprints smaller is control our consumption of electricity.  We as energy users are being as responsible as we can. I wish I could say the same for the legislature that represents us.

Demand for coal nationwide is declining.  We are seeing states enact legislation that requires an increasingly larger percentage of the energy produced to come from renewable sources.  More importantly, people in the country want to see us transition:  recent polling indicates that less than 30% of the U.S. population supported ramping up coal production. Comparatively, 75% want us to invest more in solar energy, and 71% want to see us further develop our capacity for wind power. Yes, people in southwestern Pennsylvania also want to see a cleaner energy future.  As renewable energy options expand to more and more communities across the country, people are going to choose to use the renewable energy, further decreasing the demand for coal.  If the demand is going away, why do you insist,  “Coal is not going away – quietly or otherwise?”  If you hide your eyes and block your ears to the scary realities of our energy future, our economy will suffer.

No one should discredit what truly clean energy technology has and can do for our world and the security of future generations.

Right now, the wind and solar industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.  They are growing at about a 20% rate each year.  That breaks down to anywhere from 1.3 to 1.9 million jobs over the next forty years – more than 32,000 jobs a year.   These numbers are based on the current investment and development we are seeing nation-wide in these industries; however, the U.S. is actually not the leader in clean energy jobs in the world.  China and Brazil have created more jobs in these areas than we have, and we are closely followed by India, Germany, Japan, France, Bangladesh, and Colombia.  If we want to be exceptional - as you claim we are - we need to become a true leader by not only talking about clean energy but by acting now to make it a reality in our communities across the country. What if we in Pennsylvania became the national leader in bringing these jobs to the coalfields, where workers will be displaced? What if all the legacy coal sites, currently polluting our communities, were reclaimed and replaced with solar or wind farms instead?

Transitioning to a clean energy economy does not mean leaving coal miners behind:  it means respecting them, their families, and their futures enough to invest in them.  It is, in fact, insulting to imply that miners can only be miners for the rest of their lives.  Miners are already among the most dedicated in our workforce:  they work every day in dangerous conditions, and they work irregular shifts and overtime to meet the production demands of their companies.  They do it to provide for their families, and their work contributes greatly to their communities.  Miners are already accustomed to working with extremely complex technology:  they have the minds and skill sets to learn to code or to learn how to operate the equipment needed to install and maintain renewable energy systems.  All they need is the opportunity.  Representative Snyder, what are you doing to attract these opportunities to your district?

You’re right again, Representative Snyder:  “It’s a big job, but we’re Pennsylvanians. We’re used to big jobs. We’re used to carrying a nation on our shoulders.  We have the resources.  We have the people.”

Now, all we need is a state legislature that looks at the bigger picture and is willing to bravely lead the way in creating communities with a thriving economy and healthy environment.