Mining

CRDA no. 7 Public Hearing Recap

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A Public Hearing for the pending Coal Refuse Disposal Area (CRDA) No. 7 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) water permit was held last Wednesday, July 17 at the Morris Township Community Center in Graysville, PA.  The Observer-Reporter and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attended the meeting (and their stories are linked here with their respective names).  

Only a handful of concerned residents were able to make the mid-afternoon meeting time on a Wednesday: the meeting was held from 1:00-3:00 p.m. In our history of requesting and attending meetings like this, community members have consistently pressed for meetings to be held at times that are accessible to residents, but these requests are invariably ignored. The unwillingness to consider residents is a disservice, and allows for an inaccurate portrait of a lack of concern around the issue.  

For their part, Consol Energy doesn’t mind the low turnout. “We own all the surface properties affected by the construction in this permit area, so we didn’t expect a lot of people to show up,” said Anthony Drezewski, Consol’s director of land resources. They didn’t expect many people to attend because they have effectively and systematically removed them (and thus, part of the “problem”) from the permit area. Not only have these landowners and taxpayers been displaced, but the coal companies will now devastate and devalue some 900 acres of a beautiful, lush and thriving valley. This, in turn, will drive down property values and bring further costs to taxpayers!

Consol executives will use and abuse the land and workers until it no longer lines their pocketbooks, and then the burden of their operations will fall upon the taxpayers of Greene County and the rest of Pennsylvania.  


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.  


Public Hearing for Coal Refuse Disposal Area No. 7 Water Permit

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Join the Center for Coalfield Justice at the 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.  

Another beautiful and lush valley will be scoured and then filled in with toxic coal waste.  Consol Energy is seeking another permit to fill in an additional 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.

Come to the meeting and provide your comments and concerns to PA Department of Environmental Protection officials.  Help us stop coal waste from destroying our valleys, streams and ecosystems. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Nick Hood at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 104.  


Bailey Mine Expansion Public Conference

There is a pending revision for Bailey Mine that will add 2,510 acres of existing underground permit area and underground subsidence control plan area from development mining to longwall mining.  We encourage you to attend the July 2, 2019 informal public conference held by the PA Department of Environmental Protection from 1-3 P.M. at Ryerson Station State Park Visitor Center located at 361 Bristoria Road, Wind Ridge, PA 15380.  Department representatives will be available to receive written and verbal testimony regarding the permit. 

The proposed revision is in Richhill & Aleppo Townships, Greene County. Below is a picture of a map that we know is challenging to read, so please call the office to see if you are within the permit boundary: 

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The proposed revision also requests approval to perform minor types of stream restoration as may be necessary for streams located within the proposed revision.  Long Run, Blacks Creek, South Fork Dunkard Fork and numerous other Unnamed Tributaries are within the subsidence control area. Please attend this public meeting to ensure the protection of your property, water supplies, and the health of these streams and our drinking water.  If you have any questions or comments or if you need help creating your written or verbal testimony regarding this permit, please contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 104.  

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 July 22-24. 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.



Thanks for a Great DRYerson Festival!

On Saturday, June 22nd, the staff of the Center for Coalfield Justice held its 13th Annual DRYerson Festival at Ryerson Station State Park. About 100 community members attended the festival and enjoyed the park, the beautiful afternoon, conversation and community, food, door prizes, snow cones and cotton candy, and great music from Bree Otto! We enjoyed seeing each and every one of you! Thank you for coming out! 

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The date of this DRYerson Festival marked the 25th anniversary of when Act 54 was passed. For 25 days leading up to the festival, we posted a fact each day on Facebook relating to Act 54. This Act was intended to protect water resources and structures against mine subsidence damage; extend the obligation of coal companies to pay for the damage they cause to homes, land, and businesses; and to enforce greater transparency regarding the impacts of mining. Under Act 54, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must compile data and give it to a third-party source (researchers at the University of Pittsburgh) who produce a report every five years showing the effects of underground mining on land, structures, and water sources. The most recent report was released in August of 2014, regarding the years from 2008-2013. The report regarding 2013-2018 will be released at the end of August of 2019. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 763, which has been referred to the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, would significantly weaken these protections. We are monitoring this bill and others and will share additional updates and send action alerts as needed.

We are also monitoring the streams in Ryerson (Kent Run, Polen Run, and North Fork Dunkard Fork) and are prepared to take any enforcement action if they experience significant damage that is not promptly restored. Two representatives of CCJ also serve on the Re-envision Ryerson Task Forces and have advocated for the state to be more clear about the timeline and process for improvement projects at the Park. There is another task force meeting scheduled for August and we will share an update afterwards.

Thanks to all of our members and supporters, who help us to continue the work that we do for environmental justice for our communities, and thank you to all of our volunteers for the hard work. We’ll look forward to doing this again next year!

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 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.



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




Protectors of Mingo stall Mine Permit for Six Years

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It has been six years since Protectors of Mingo began fighting against RAM Mining, LLC (an arm of Ramaco) to prevent the Ram No. 1 Mine from coming into our community, and they are still going strong. A permit has not yet been issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, but Ramaco is still moving forward with the application process and is letting shareholders know that they expect to receive the permit by the end of 2019.

Ramaco, LLC - a company based in the midwest - applied for this permit to open a new deep mine in Nottingham and Peters Township in 2013. The mine would have significant impacts on Little Mingo Creek, home values, and road conditions in the area.

Over the years, Protectors of Mingo raised awareness of this potential new deep mine throughout our area, garnering support from fellow community members and elected officials. They helped Nottingham Township adopt a series of sixty-two conditions that, should the permit be issued and the plans for mining become reality, will make a major difference in the safety and daily lives of our community. They have engaged with - and continue to engage with - public administrators to ensure that they know about the very tangible concerns we have with the proposed mining plan. As a result of Protectors of Mingo’s constant communication with the DEP, the permit is still under review. Most mining permits are decided within a year or two of being applied for. Most recently, we’ve been preparing to take action to protect our area should the permit be issued.


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.