September 10, 2008

Environmental Groups Challenge Consol’s Attempt to Degrade Greene County Stream

Mountain Watershed Association (MWA), Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), today submitted a report to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), challenging an attempt by Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to have Grinnage Run in Greene County redesignated from High Quality - Warm Water Fishes to Warm Water Fishes, a status that permits more pollution to the stream.

Krissy Kasserman, Mountain Watershed Association's Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, said, "The report shows that Grinnage Run once met its high quality designation and that, with appropriate measures in place, it will once again. The report cautions that Grinnage Run will never again meet its high quality designation if Consol's petition is granted and the company is permitted to conduct the underground mining activities that it seeks through its petition to allow."

Terri Davin, community organizer for the Center for Coalfield Justice, said, "For too long, the coal industry has damaged our streams, leaving pollution behind that is destroying our watersheds. Grinnage Run has largely and miraculously eluded this damage, and we intend to keep it that way. If Consol succeeds in its plan to downgrade the stream, residents and businesses in Greene County will suffer. Continued destruction of our water has made our area one of the poorest in the state, and additional water loss will only make the problem worse. We simply cannot attract businesses and families to this region if our water supplies are at risk."

Brian Glass, staff attorney for PennFuture and counsel to the environmental groups, said, "Under the law, a stream may not be downgraded if at one time it attained its designated level of protection, as Grinnage Run did. A stream also may not be downgraded if it could once again attain its designated level of protection, as Grinnage Run can. The standards for downgrading a stream in Pennsylvania are extremely demanding, erring in favor of protecting our streams and placing a heavy burden on those wishing to degrade them. As the report shows, Consol has failed to meet its burden with respect to Grinnage Run, and its petition should be denied."

On August 16, 2006 Consol submitted a petition for rulemaking to the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB), an independent board that reviews and approves all of DEP's regulations, asking to downgrade Grinnage Run basin, from its source to the confluence with Grays Fork. DEP has been charged with studying the issue and reporting back to the EQB with its recommendation.

The report filed today by the environmental groups, performed by Schmid & Co., Inc., Consulting Ecologists, demonstrates that it would be contrary to both Pennsylvania and federal law to redesignate Grinnage Run, and is meant to inform DEP's study and the EQB's decision making. A copy of the study is available online at pdf. (Due to its length, this URL may need to be copied/pasted into your Internet browser's address field. Remove the extra space if one exists.)

PennFuture is a statewide public interest membership organization, founded in 1998. Working from the premise that "Every environmental victory grows the economy," PennFuture has successfully advocated for landmark environmental legislation, including passage of the largest ever environmental funding bond, passage of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, adoption of the Clean Vehicles Program and adoption of a regulation that protects Pennsylvania's babies by restricting mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. PennFuture has staff throughout the state, in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, West Chester and Scranton. The Philadelphia Inquirer called PennFuture the "state's leading environmental advocacy organization."

The Mountain Watershed Association is a community-based public interest organization concerned with the conservation, restoration and protection of the Indian Creek Watershed in Fayette and Westmoreland Counties. MWA's major purposes include bringing about remediation of the numerous abandoned mine discharges in the watershed, developing community awareness, promoting cooperative community efforts for restoration and encouraging sound environmental practices. In 2003, MWA became home of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, a program that expanded the vision of the organization into the larger Youghiogheny River basin.

The Center for Coalfield Justice was formed as the "Tri-State Citizens Mining Network" in 1994 by a coalition of grassroots groups and individuals concerned about the effects coal mining had on communities and the environment. The people involved recognized the need to build a strong voice in the coalfield community through public education and advocacy in defense of citizens' rights. By working together, the groups provide mutual support for local events and share information beneficial to each group's efforts. Tri-State was incorporated in 1999 and reorganized into the Center for Coalfield Justice in 2007. The Center for Coalfield Justice consists of both individual members and member groups.