Environmentalists, Miners Square Off In Western Pa. Coal Country

RICHHILL TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — What once was a 62-acre lake at Ryerson Park in Greene County is now just a dried up lake bed.

Back in 2005, a dam cracked and the water drained out. Destruction the state blamed on the long wall mining operations of Consol Energy.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “We would be under water right now?”

“Right, we would be at least waist deep,” said Veronica Coptis, an activist with Coalfield Justice.

A dozen years later, Coptis calls it a stunning example of coal’s lasting impact on the environment.

“We still don’t have out lake,” she says. “There’s still threats from mining to the park, and the community is still banding together to fight for their constitutional right to clean water and enjoyment of our natural resources.”

In the settlement with state regulators, Consol Energy admitted no fault but agreed to pay $30 million. Now, the energy company is back, seeking permit to continue mining under Ryerson Park, and under streams.

Fourth generation miner and Consol foreman Brennan Gallick says it can be done safely.

“Believe it or not, we’re stewards of the environment. We fish here, we hunt here, we hike here. If you walk any of he these hills, it’s beautiful countryside and it’s all been mined under,” said Gallick.

These days, the environmentalists and coal miners are squaring off peacefully at information sessions on the mining permit by the state Department of Environmental Protection, but tempers are seething just below the surface.

“It’s almost personal. They’re attacking my livelihood,” said miner Frank Zaccone.

In Greene and Washington counties, Consol operates the largest coal mining complex in North America.

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Employment there has remained relatively steady despite the layoffs of tens of thousands of miners nationwide. But if denied these permits, miners expect significant layoffs and say the environmentalists don’t take that human toll into account.

“If you look at this area and how many miners are in this area. It would devastate this area,” Zaccone said.

While Consol prepares to mine under the creek, the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club are challenging the permits before the state Environmental Hearing Board.

“My constitutional right to these streams is just as important as the jobs in our community. I live here, other people live here, and we have a right to enjoy in our backyard,” said Coptis.

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