Mining

CCJ is Going to DC

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The Center for Coalfield Justice along with partners from the Alliance for Appalachia are planning a trip to DC to advocate for the RECLAIM Act and Black Lung benefits from September 23rd - 26th, and the trip will include meeting with congressional representatives, networking, and fellowship.

Come join us and travel to Washington, DC with our group of frontline residents working for clean water and healthy communities. The Appalachian region has paid a heavy price for coal industry abuse, from degraded land to our people’s health. Our members hold a strong vision of where we’re heading and have clear goals of how we’re going to get there. We see reclamation as a key component to achieving clean water, while also providing an opportunity to boost development and job creation.

A schedule of events will be announced after registration closes.  We can provide scholarships for up to 10 people from Pennsylvania which include lodging, food, and travel. Register for the trip here.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns please contact Nick at 724-229-3550 extension 104 or nick@coalfieldjustice.org.  

Register for Washington PA People's Climate, Jobs, and Justice March

On September 8, thousands of rallies will be held in cities and towns around the globe to demand a world with clean air and energy, healthy, family-sustaining jobs, and thriving communities that work for all of us.

The Center for Coalfield Justice and Washington County United are bringing these issue home in Washington, PA to demand our local officials take action on economic, environmental, and social justice starting at 10 AM downtown in Washington and concluding with a cookout.

Private companies and corrupt politicians have been benefiting off our community's resources and labor for too long. We can have a living wage, sustainable jobs that do not treat working-class families and families of color as disposable, but we need the political will to get there. If you are tired of not having access to quality jobs, education, and a healthy environment join us in the streets to demand action!

We can change the national narrative that the coalfields, small towns, and rural communities are happy with the status quo. Together we can create the change needed in our community.

Register to attend the march and stand up for justice in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Want to help with outreach, making art, or speak at the event contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org.

CCJ Attends Public Hearing to Advocate for No Increased Discharges into Mon. River

In a room full of UMWA members and miners from Contura’s Cumberland mine, the Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing on the draft NPDES permit no. 033511, which would increase the permitted limits for sulfates and total dissolved solids (TDS) into the Monongahela River outfall 001 near Carmichaels, PA. CCJ Campaign Coordinator, Sarah, Community Organizer, Nick, and board members, Ken and Chuck, attended the event to stand up for common-sense permits.

At issue in this permitting decision is the fact that the Monongahela River was only recently considered to be recovered for sulfates. Now that it is no longer impaired, Cumberland Mine is seeking to increase the sulfates they can discharge into the river, pushing the river to 84% of its assimilative capacity - meaning that it is extremely close to the highest level it could safely take, a level that CCJ finds to be illegal and unreasonable. Unlike permits for new discharges, the mining company is seeking an increase in the level they may discharge, and workers testified at the public hearing that jobs would be on the line in this situation. However, the company is currently operating within the existing permit requirements without the threat of job loss. They also, according to permit documents, built a brand new water treatment facility for this outfall that they have never used in the past, yet they still have been in compliance with their existing permitted limits.

For those of our members and supporters who signed our petition asking the DEP not to authorize this permit, a copy was submitted with over 250 names attached to it. We expect to be contacted with a summary of the public hearing soon, and will keep you informed of any updates on this NPDES permit.

Additional Discharges Possible into Mon. River from Cumberland Mine

 The Monongehela River near Carmichaels, PA

The Monongehela River near Carmichaels, PA

The Cumberland Mine is renewing their water discharge permit, and it will increase the amount of sulfate pollution into the Monongahela River, which is a major drinking water source for southwestern Pennsylvania. The discharge is located just a few miles upstream from the Carmichaels Water Authority drinking water intake. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing regarding the NPDES Water Quality Permit for the Cumberland Mine Coal Refuse Disposal Facility on August 9th, 2018 at the Greensboro VFD/Church Building, 384 Stoney Hill Road, Greensboro from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.  The nature of the public hearing is to solicit concerns and comments regarding the draft amended NPDES permit for the Cumberland Mine Coal Refuse Disposal Facility.

The Monongahela River is considered to be no longer impaired for sulfates, so the mine is increasing the amount of sulfates they will discharge into the river, without taking into consideration the other mine discharges in that area.

The site has three (3) NPDES outfalls located in Monongahela and Whiteley Townships, Greene County. We encourage you to attend the public hearing where Department representative will be available to receive written and verbal testimony regarding the draft NPDES permit. Testimony will be placed into public record for the draft NPDES permit and considered by Department staff in the review process.

If you have any other questions, concerns or comments please contact Nick at the Center for Coalfield Justice at (724) 229-3550 x4 or by email at nick@coalfieldjustice.org.

Alliance for Appalachia Creates New Teams

 View of Smokey Mountains at Highlander Center in Tennessee. 

View of Smokey Mountains at Highlander Center in Tennessee. 

The Center for Coalfield Justice attended the most recent Alliance for Appalachia Steering Committee Meeting, where member groups decided to try a six month trial period that involves a restructuring of the current “teams” with a hope that the new teams are more issue specific and inspiring to those who choose to be apart of them.  Also, plans were started for a trip to DC with the goal of meeting with decision makers and sending a clear message that people in Appalachia want a healthy future, rather than more coal mining.

Previously, only an Econ Team and a Federal Team had existed.  Now, there will be 4 groups; Corporate Accountability Team, Citizen Enforcement Team, New Economy Team, Black Lung Team and an Internal Communications Team, which will have representation from each team. Below are the description of the teams, please contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org if you want to get engaged in any of the teams.  

The Corporate Accountability Team will focus on planning regional actions to put pressure on corporate targets, especially Jim Justice and Alpha Natural Resources.  

The Citizen Enforcement Team hopes to convene a space for member groups to learn from each other’s work around water monitoring and enforcement, organize trainings, share resources, and contribute data to the Appalachian Citizen Enforcement Database. Also, they plan to share strategies between states on enforcement-related issues such as citizens engagement in bond proceeds, tracking and challenging mine permits, submitting citizen complaints, using the clean water act to enforce the law and more.  

New Economy Team will focus on real solutions/research around building wealth by moving resources to acquire and redistribute land. Research Community Reinvestment Act and Land Trust Connect resources to communities/people trying to purchase land.

Black Lung Team will focus on a DC Action Planning Team around Black Lung Trust Fund that will expire at the end of the year and advocate the renewal of the fund in order to protect former and current mine workers.

Internal Communications Team will keep the connectedness and coordination between teams and increase transparency of the Coordinating Committee work. This Team will be comprised of representatives from each of the new teams who will join a coordinating call monthly.

The new teams were formed with the mission of the Alliance in mind and will continue to move forward the efforts to end mountaintop removal, put a halt to destructive coal technologies, and create a sustainable, just Appalachia.    

After the six month trial period, the Steering Committee and member organizations will assess the progress and vote whether to keep the new structure with more issue-specific teams, or make additional changes.  The DC trip may be upon us before you know it, so stay updated!

Report on Coal Mine Bonding in Central Appalachia

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The Center for Coalfield Justice is a member of the Alliance for Appalachia, which is a regional coalition of grassroots, non-profit organizations with the goals of ending mountaintop removal, putting a halt to destructive coal technologies, and creating a sustainable, just Appalachia.  They recently released a report on the state of surface coal mine bonding in four Central Appalachian states. Bonds are used for ensuring reclamation of mine sites, should a company be unable to finish reclamation. The report details the bonding programs in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and recommends improvements that state and federal agencies should make to better protect communities and the environment.

Check out more information here:

http://theallianceforappalachia.org/report-coal-mining-bonding-central-appalachia/ 

Bailey Mine Litigation Settlement and Commonwealth Court Appeal Update

 Kent Run at Ryerson Station State Park. (Photo credit: Sarah Winner)

Kent Run at Ryerson Station State Park. (Photo credit: Sarah Winner)

A Stipulation of Settlement Entered in Permit Revision 204 Litigation

Permit Revision 204 authorized longwall mining beneath Kent Run and Polen Run in the 3L panel of the Bailey East Expansion. In January 2017 we successfully petitioned for a supersedeas that prohibited Consol from conducting longwall mining beneath Kent Run in the 3L panel, located within the park, while the appeal is pending.

As part of Permit Revision 209, the DEP approved a revised mining map submitted by Consol that shows development mining only beneath Kent Run. As a result, on January 5, 2018, we entered into a stipulation of settlement with the DEP and Consol. In the settlement, the parties agreed to quit fighting now and also agreed that we can pick the fight back up again if the DEP approves longwall mining beneath Kent Run in the future.

The settlement agreement recognizes and makes clear that Consol no longer has permission to conduct longwall mining under Kent Run in the 3L panel, which is located within Ryerson Station State Park. It also states that any future authorization of longwall mining would require a permit revision subject to public notice and comment. In other words, if Consol ever wants to return to the 3L panel and longwall mine beneath Kent Run, it will be required to go through the permit application process again.

Any future authorization of longwall mining beneath Kent Run in the 3L panel would be a final DEP action that is appealable to the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB). The agreement preserves our ability to raise any factual and legal issues that we identified in the Permit Revision 204 Appeal, including issues related to post-mining stream mitigation in Kent Run, in an appeal of any future permit revision which reauthorizes longwall mining.

Consol Discontinued its Appeal of EHB Decision on Permit Revision 180 and 189

On August 15, 2017, the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) delivered a major victory to CCJ, Sierra Club and their members in a consolidated appeal of two longwall mining permits for the Bailey Mine: Permit Revision No. 180 and Permit Revision No. 189. Shortly thereafter, Consol appealed the EHB’s decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

On January 9, 2018, Consol discontinued its appeal of the EHB’s decision. That decision, which sets forth important guidance for evaluating longwall mining applications in the future and provides stronger protection for Pennsylvania streams, cannot be overturned.  

Bailey Mine Permitting Update

On Friday, November 3, 2017, the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) issued Permit Revision No. 209 to Coal Mining Activity Permit 30841316. Permit Revision No. 209 authorizes Consol to conduct longwall mining in the 6L – 8L panels of the Bailey Mine.  

There has been some confusion about whether Permit Revision No. 209 authorizes longwall mining beneath Polen Run in the 4L and 5L panels of the Bailey Mine. It does not. Instead, it authorizes longwall mining in three panels (6L-8L) that are located in an area south-east of Ryerson Station State Park.   

Consol is currently longwall mining in the 5L panel of the Bailey Mine. In January we successfully petitioned for a supersedeas that prohibited Consol from conducting longwall mining beneath Kent Run in the 3L panel, located within the park, while the appeal is pending. Then, in August, CCJ and Sierra Club received a favorable decision in their consolidated appeal of Permit Revision Nos. 180 and 189.

Due to this decision, Consol had to amend their pending permit for authorization to mine under Polen run, which is within the state park, for the 4L and 5L panels. This permit is still pending and we are prepared to take any action to protect the stream.

The Environmental Hearing Board Rules In Favor of CCJ and Sierra Club

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On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) unanimously delivered a major victory to Center for Coalfield Justice, Sierra Club and their members in a consolidated appeal of two longwall mining permits for the Bailey Coal Mine: Permit Revision No. 180 and Permit Revision No. 189. The EHB’s decision sets important precedent for streams in Pennsylvania that may be impacted by longwall coal mining operations

The Permit Revisions allowed Consol Energy to expand longwall mining operations at the Bailey Mine to an area located to the east of Ryerson Station State Park. Permit Revision No. 180 authorized longwall mining in the 1L through 5L panels, but did not authorize longwall mining beneath Polen Run and Kent Run. Permit Revision No. 189 authorized longwall mining beneath Polen Run in the 1L and 2L panels of the Bailey Lower East Expansion. It also authorized post-mining stream channel lining to address predicted subsidence-induced flow loss.

The Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) and Consol predicted that longwall mining would cause flow loss and pooling in certain overlying streams.The DEP determined that the extent and severity of the predicted subsidence-induced stream impacts would require post-mining stream remediation including streambed lining, streambed grouting, and gate cutting.  We presented our case before the EHB in August 2016.

While waiting for a final decision from the Judges, Senators Scarnati and Yaw introduced SB 624 in an attempt to retroactively defeat our legal arguments. SB 624 was amended in the House with support from the DEP. The amended version of SB 624 is now known as Act 32 of 2017. These amendments to the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (“Mine Subsidence Act”)  were a transparent attempt to substitute the Legislature’s judgment for that of the EHB’s in the Consolidated Appeal.

However, the EHB refused to apply Act 32 of 2017 to the Consolidated Appeal. The Judges agreed that Act 32 constitutes a change to the approved Pennsylvania Mining Program and requires approval from the Federal Office of Surface Mining (“OSM”). Without OSM approval, the amendments to the Mine Subsidence Act are not effective. Just as importantly, the EHB explained that it would have reached the same conclusion even if Act 32 had applied. As a result, the EHB’s decision cannot be invalidated should OSM approve the amendments in the future.

In the 71-page opinion, the EHB ruled in favor of CCJ and Sierra Club and held that issuance of Permit Revision No. 189 was in violation of the Clean Streams Law, the Mine Subsidence Act and associated regulations. The EHB explained:

"When the Department anticipates that the impacts from longwall mining are going to be so extensive that the only way to “fix” the anticipated damage to the stream is to essentially destroy the existing stream channel and streambanks and rebuild it from scratch, the Department’s decision to issue Permit Revision No. 189 is unreasonable and contrary to the law.” 

In addition, the EHB found that the Department’s action granting Permit Revision No. 189 violated Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Board acknowledged that Clean Streams Law, the Mine Subsidence Act and their regulations are relevant to the protection of public natural resources like the streams within and around Ryerson Station State Park. The Board also recognized that compliance with a state statute does not always equate to compliance with Article I, Section 27. Department actions taken under the authority of a statute must still be measured against the constitutional requirements of Article I, Section 27. However, in this case, no further analysis was required.

“At a minimum, a Department permitting action that is not lawful under the statutes and regulation in place to protect waters of the Commonwealth, cannot be said to meet the Department’s trustee responsibility under Article I, Section 27 and is clearly a state action taken contrary to the rights of citizens to pure water.”

While this decision did not prevent harm to Polen Run above that section of the mine, it sets an important precedent for the future. The immediate impact is to preclude the Department from authorizing longwall mining beneath the portion of Polen Run that flows through Ryerson Station State Park.

The DEP already determined that other, more minor forms of post-mining stream remediation would not restore the stream and that stream channel lining would be necessary. Since it is not reasonable, lawful or constitutional “to allow longwall mining to take place when the Department determines prior to issuing the permit that the impacts to a stream will rise to a level that the necessary restoration will require this level of disruption to the existing stream,” the DEP cannot approve Consol’s pending application to longwall mine beneath Polen Run in the 4L and 5L panels.

Over three years ago, in April 2014, Consol voluntarily revised its mining plan and represented to the DEP that it could and would conduct development mining (not longwall mining) beneath Polen Run in the 4L and 5L panels, which is located within Ryerson Station State Park. Earlier this year, Consol submitted an application to instead longwall mine beneath this portion of the stream. Should the DEP deny Consol’s pending application, Consol could continue to operate in accordance with their mining plan that was approved in 2014. As a result, denial of its application to longwall mine beneath Polen Run within the Park would not justify a reduction in workforce.

The EHB upheld the DEP’s issuance of Permit Revision No. 180 citing insufficient evidence to conclude that the predicted and observed impacts caused or would cause “impermissible impairment” or “unreasonable degradation” of the streams within the permit area. Still, the EHB provided valuable clarification about the protections afforded to Pennsylvania streams that may be impacted by longwall coal mining.

For over a decade, the DEP has focused almost exclusively on the adequacy of post-mining mitigation plans rather than protecting streams from significant mining impacts.  Instead the DEP relied upon post-mining stream mitigation plans to approve and excuse predicted mining damage to streams in advance. We argued that this emphasis on post-mining mitigation plans and monitoring requirements misses the point. The EHB largely agreed.

More specifically, we argued that the law allows 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 stream’s protected uses (e.g. aquatic life). In other words, a company can mine and in doing so remove some flow from a stream so long as it does not remove so much flow that the stream no longer supports aquatic life. The EHB agreed that

“The fundamental question in this case is whether the impacts from subsidence anticipated from and caused by Consol’s longwall mining in the [Bailey Lower East Expansion] will impair or have impaired the streams in the area. Impairment clearly violates the Clean Streams Law and its regulations and if the Department determined that longwall mining will impair the streams in the [Bailey Lower East Expansion], it should deny the permit revisions. It also violated the Mine Subsidence Act and its regulations.”

Consistent with this impairment framework, the EHB acknowledged the mining-induced impacts observed in undermined streams at the Bailey Lower East Expansion and discussed the use of post-mining streambed grouting to address flow loss and the use of gate cutting to mitigate subsidence-induced pooling. With respect to gate cutting, the EHB expressed concern “because the streambed is excavated in places to lower the stream gradient and re-establish flow. Extensive excavation of the streambed can certainly impact a stream and impair its uses because of the impact it will have on the organisms in the stream.” This means the DEP must consider the scope and duration of post-mining mitigation work. A promise to perform repairs may not be enough if stream uses will be impaired.   

Although the EHB was not convinced that the streams under which Permit Revision No. 180 authorized mining were likely to or did suffer impermissible impairment, the EHB recognized that

“Even this level of impact, which necessitates the implementation of minor forms of stream mitigation, could result in stream impairment if the time or amount of work involved extended beyond what was demonstrated in this case.”

While there is still work to be done, the Board’s opinion sets forth important guidance for evaluating longwall mining applications in the future and provides stronger protection for Pennsylvania streams.

Environmental Hearing Board Overturns Permit for Destructive Mining Upstream of Ryerson Station State Park

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Greene County, PA--The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) rejected a revised underground longwall mining permit issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2015 that allowed Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to cause extensive damage to a stream called Polen Run, which flows into Ryerson Station Station State Park.

“We greatly appreciate all of the time that the Board spent on this matter,” Sarah Winner, who represented Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club in the appeals, said. “The Board’s decision provides important clarification about the protections afforded to Pennsylvania streams in the context of longwall coal mining.”

The EHB concurred with two community groups, the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and the Sierra Club, that Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow the DEP to permit mining that is predicted to damage a stream so severely that the only way to “fix” the damage is to construct a new stream in its place.

“We’re thrilled that the EHB has agreed with us that it is illegal to allow a company to destroy streams for the sake of increasing profit. This ruling has put the industry and the DEP on notice that it must do a better job of developing mining plans to protect streams,” Veronica Coptis at the Center for Coalfield Justice said. “We are thankful to the hundreds of area residents who contributed to our successful efforts and remain committed to protecting the streams within Ryerson Station State Park.”

"The EHB set a precedent today that it will protect streams throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. This is a victory for the rule of law and for local folks who have had to suffer the consequences of irresponsible mining practices for too long. Time and again mining companies have proven that putting a stream back together after breaking it is easier said than done,” Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for Pennsylvania at the Sierra Club said. “Now the industry will have to comply with the environmental laws and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and prevent extensive damage in the first place. They can no longer sacrifice community resources for corporate greed.”

CCJ and Sierra Club were also represented by Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services.

 

Make a donation today to support the ongoing fight for streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park.