EPCAMR Provides Public Comments and Perspective to PA Department of Environmental Justice on Coalfield Issues

One behalf of the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), the EPCAMR Executive Director submitted public comments and our perspective within the coalfields of Northeastern and Northcentral PA, where many of our communities have been historically disenfranchised and to this day still are and don’t have access to many opportunities to participate in direct decisions to make improvements to their local environment, rivers, streams, and abandoned mine lands that were previously impacted by abandoned mines. EPCAMR is a 20+ year regional non-profit organization, located in the heart of the Northern Anthracite Coalfields, in the Borough of Ashley, an environmental justice community, within the Wyoming Valley.

Robert E. Hughes, Executive Director goes on to say, “We work with our underserved communities and school districts to provide environmental education programs, events, community cleanup projects, environmental restoration projects, and land and water remediation efforts to improve the community health and well-being of our region that have been underrepresented, underfunded, and not been prioritized strongly enough on the State level to receive the attention these communities deserve.”

Robert E. Hughes, EPCAMR Executive Director surrounded by 5th grade students from Heights Elementary at a Trout in the Classroom release event and AMD Education Program at Frances Slocum State Park.

EPCAMR agrees that environmental justice does embody the principles that coalfield communities should not be disproportionately exposed to adverse environmental impacts, yet, we continue to live in both urban and rural communities that are surrounded by 5,597 miles of streams and 178,537 acres of abandoned mine lands across PA that are impacted by abandoned mine drainage (AMD) that render our watersheds, rivers, and streams that are affected unable to be utilized for what many communities take for granted, such as fishing, boating, swimming, industrial use, and on the water outdoor recreational uses.

 

Below are EPCAMR’s Executive Director’s responses to the PA DEP Office of Environmental Justice’s specific questions.

Specific Questions

What environmental justice concerns are most pressing in your community?

The most pressing environmental justice concerns in our community are non-point source pollution from abandoned mine lands in the form of abandoned mine drainage (AMD), the illegal dumping of household hazardous wastes, tires, trash, and drug paraphernalia on lands and along streams within the coalfield communities. Thousands of miles of streams are impacted and polluted by AMD. Thousands more are impacted by abandoned mine lands. Figure 1. was created by EPCAMR using PA’s 2017 Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (AMLIS).

Figure 1. State of Abandoned Mine Lands in PA

Statistics on AML in PA

There is a lack of prioritization of funding under many of the State Programs for these communities. Many of the communities have designations within them under on the stream segments that on the Federal level and State Level which list them as on Federal List of Impaired Waters, making them eligible for funding, however they are not given priority, in many cases under the State’s Growing Greener Grant Program, for example. Many of the stream segments and watersheds throughout NE and NC PA are also not qualified to receive additional Federal funding under the State’s Set Aside Program, funded under the Surface Mining Reclamation Control & Reclamation Act’s Title IV Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund yearly allocation because they are not designated as Qualified Hydrologic Units, nor do they have Qualified Hydrologic Unit Plans developed.

Figure 2. below shows that only 5 QHU Plans have been officially developed that EPCAMR is aware of and we understand that a few more are underway in some other coalfield impacted watersheds in the Southern Anthracite Coalfields and in the Eastern Middle Anthracite Region. EPCAMR has offered to provide the technical assistance to develop these plans for approval should funding become available to allow our organization to properly assess the watersheds and stream segments to meet the criteria under the Set Aside Program. We have proposed grants to perform such technical tasks in previous grant rounds and were denied funding for the opportunity to assist the State in the much-needed development of these QHUPs. The denial of funding could have been due to limited funds available under the Program.

 

Figure 2. Hydrologic Unit Plans Approved Across PA (PA DEP, 2009)

2016 Qualified Hydrologic Unit Plans in PA

Figure 3. shows the 39 locations that are designated Environmental Justice areas within the 16 County EPCAMR Region, where only 15 political municipal sub-divisions have been designated, within 15 unified places, in 11 School Districts. ~ 19,461.50 acres of land affected within this region. These numbers are grossly underreported and EPCAMR believes that many more communities and tracts need to be added and expanded to include additional coalfield communities throughout the EPCAMR Region. There are entire watersheds that are impacted by AMD that are not included in these areas, which means that they are not getting the attention that they deserve. The impacts of AMD and water pollution do not stop at political boundaries and Census Tracts. It may be more suitable to begin looking at increasing areas of Environmental Justice to watershed boundaries that are more clearly defined and then one can review the statistics to see where the concentration of the pollution problems are located.

 

One will find that in certain watersheds, the headwater areas will be unimpacted, with less dense populations affected, and then as you follow the streams and tributaries down into the Valley cities and municipalities, they areas become more impacted and areas are highly concentrated with larger populations that experience the environmental justice issues. Non-profit organizations like EPCAMR are always looking to secure funding to work with these communities because often times, there are no professionally staffed environmental organizations within these communities to do the research and are trained to perform the necessary assessments, grant writing, technical reporting, and monitoring that is required to secure funds to improve the overall quality and community health of their watersheds.

 

Our communities also lack large community foundations and access to funds to cleanup our communities.

Figure 3. Acreage, Poverty % Statistics, County Subdivision, and Unified School Districts in the EPCAMR Region (US Census, 2010)

ACREAGE POVERTY % COUNTY SUBDIVISION UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICTS
427.90 22.45 Carbondale city Carbondale Area School
934.07 21.315 Carbondale city Carbondale Area School
603.57 22.225 Forest City borough Forest City Regional School
224.57 20.425 Nanticoke city Greater Nanticoke Area School
591.60 20.595 Ashley borough Hanover Area School
1764.27 20.98 Hanover township Hanover Area School
430.56 22.95 Freeland borough Hazleton Area School
186.17 23.07 Hazleton City Hazleton Area School
123.59 21.89 Hazleton City Hazleton Area School
144.99 21.95 Hazleton City Hazleton Area School
544.572 21.74 Hazleton city Hazleton Area School
734.68 29.05 Hazleton city Hazleton Area School
468.52 21.94 West Hazleton borough Hazleton Area School
983.66 22.43 Lansford borough Panther Valley School
360.96 27.58 Pottsville city Pottsville Area School
611.75 24.71 Pottsville city Pottsville Area School
175.66 58.52 Scranton city Scranton School
713.54 21.95 Scranton city Scranton School
442.79 31.80 Scranton city Scranton School
395.39 31.54 Scranton city Scranton School
666.44 39.32 Scranton city Scranton School
242.65 39.29 Scranton city Scranton School
1701.51 19.56 Scranton city Scranton School
127.68 26.93 Scranton city Scranton School
130.13 31.33 Scranton city Scranton School
1996.98 24.68 Tamaqua borough Tamaqua Area School
524.30 45.43 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
249.17 30.22 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
245.76 35.50 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
220.10 40.41 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
243.88 23.94 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
148.27 33.61 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
244.05 25.07 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
88.99 24.03 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
247.16 24.90 Wilkes-Barre city Wilkes-Barre Area School
763.93 24.32 Edwardsville borough Wyoming Valley West School
266.53 42.25 Plymouth borough Wyoming Valley West School
232.08 21.78 Plymouth borough Wyoming Valley West School
259.05 20.30 Plymouth borough Wyoming Valley West School

 

 

— Do you feel that the current definition of an environmental justice community (20 percent poverty or 30 percent minority, or both) properly represents the needs of your community and the Commonwealth at large?

No. The definition should not define environmental justice solely by the 20% poverty rate or the 30% minority population because minority populations are not the only ones affected by environmental pollution. It should not matter what the percentage is if the pollution problem exists because the polluted lands and water don’t discriminate against population segments or Census defined categories of people based on their minority or ethnic backgrounds.

— Do you feel the Department is engaged with marginalized communities to ensure that they have a voice in the decision-making process? How can the Department be more engaged with these communities?

No. I have not seen the OEJ in our particular region of NE PA. We have many communities that are marginalized in our region and none of the listening sessions are even located in our area. EPCAMR is in an OEJ community and are not aware of any attempts to make the Borough of Ashley or a group such as ours aware of the impacts that certain projects may have on our community. We need to be able to provide easier access to the political process and be sure that our volunteers and members of the communities that we are serving are having their voice heard. We have no Regional Coordinator for the NE Region of PA.  The OEJ can make our organization more aware of projects and meetings and then we can let our community groups know about them through our network to encourage more participation and local involvement. Legal ads and public notices are not often seen by the communities that we work in if they are used to notify the public about permits, nor is the Federal Register. EPCAMR is a non-profit that could benefit from the support of industries that are coming into the area that want to have a positive impact on the surrounding communities if they were able to provide donations of services, grants, a volunteer incentive program, or opportunities for partnerships on projects that will improve the environment. Notification should include community centers, electronic notices to regional non-profit groups, and municipalities.

— What tools have you used to find out information on Department permitting/enforcement actions?

e-Facts (http://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/eFACTSWeb/default.aspx). Review of Surface Mining Permits in the Pottsville or Moshannon District Mining Offices.

— What ways can the Department be more effective at sharing information with the public?

E-mails to the public who sign up to receive notifications of permitting and enforcement actions or new projects.

— How can the Department be more effective at receiving public input?

Provide notification to people who sign up through a website portal through the OEJ to receive additional input and notifications on public information for projects, permitting, or enforcement actions. Flyers should go to community centers and municipal buildings in the EJ areas.

— What resource is your community lacking that the Department can provide that would assist in efforts to ensure environmental equity?

Funding to be able to conduct outreach to the community members of the EJ areas to build capacity within the communities to allow them to have a voice.

— What additional steps can be taken by the Department to effectively reach out to these vulnerable communities to ensure that their concerns are taken into consideration?

Provide a Regional Coordinator for the NE Region.


Below is some information from the PA DEP OEJ Website.

Download the Listening Tour brochure 

PROVIDE US WITH YOUR COMMENTS & THOUGHTS BY MAY 25

  • In person at one of the EJ listening tour stops
  • Online at DEP-OEJ@pa.gov
  • In writing at:

Rachel Carson State Ofce Building
Office of Environmental Justice
400 Market Street, 16th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101

SESSION SCHEDULE REMAINING

May 11, 2017 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Lehigh County

Allentown Public Library

Community Room

1210 Hamilton Street

Allentown, PA 18102

May 15, 2017, 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Lancaster County

HACC Lancaster Campus

East Building, Room 203

1641 Old Philadelphia Pike

Lancaster, PA 17602

May 23, 2017, 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Delaware County

Chester City Hall Council Chambers

1 Fourth Street,

Chester, PA 19013

May 25, 2017, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Philadelphia County

Fairmount Water Works

640 Water Works Drive

Philadelphia, PA 19130

CONTACT US

Carl Jones, Jr., Esq. Director
caejone@pa.gov, (484) 250-5818

Nora Alwine, Regional Coordinator
nalwine@pa.gov, (412) 442-4137

John Brakeall, Regional Coordinator
jbrakeall@pa.gov, (717) 783-9731

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Ofce of Environmental Justice
P.O. Box 7732 Harrisburg, PA 17101
(484) 250-5942

 

Comments are closed