Environmental group appeals Consol mining permit for Greene County park

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The Center for Coalfield Justice has appealed a state mining permit allowing a 3,175-acre expansion of Consol Energy's Bailey Mine that the center says will undermine and subside 14 streams in and around Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County.

According to the Washington, Pa.-based environmental organization, the planned longwall mining operation will damage and dry up several of the streams in the park where subsidence caused by the same longwall mine in 2005 resulted in the draining of Duke Lake, a popular 62-acre recreational lake. The lake remains dry today.

"First, Consol destroyed Duke Lake in the middle of Ryerson Station State Park," said Patrick Grenter, CCJ executive director. "Now, they're looking to destroy the streams that flow through the dry lake bed. When will the DEP learn its lesson and just deny the permit? How many more public lands will the state sacrifice to this company?"

The appeal, filed Friday with the state Environmental Hearing Board, seeks revocation of the permit, which, Mr. Grenter said, allows Consol to add five new longwall "panels" and mine an additional 50 million tons of coal from the Pittsburgh coal seam.

The state Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment.

Consol, in a statement issued by spokeswoman Kate O'Donovan, said, it is proud of the Bailey Mine, which employs 5,000 workers.

"The Center for Coalfield Justice's actions continue to ignore the facts and clearly reveal their anti-jobs, anti-energy, anti-prosperity agenda that only serves to weaken our region's competitiveness," the company statement said.

Longwall mining is a full-extraction mining method that leaves behind no support pillars, and causes immediate surface subsidence of three to four feet.

In December 2012, the DEP issued a ruling that said subsidence caused by the Bailey Mine, which operates between 300 and 500 feet below the surface, had permanently dewatered six streams in Greene County adjacent to the new mining permit area. Consol has appealed that determination.

Mr. Grenter said both DEP and Consol have acknowledged that mining subsidence will dewater four stocked trout streams and diminish water flow in 10 others. Those concerns delayed approval of the permit for two years.

"The state has issued deficiency letters to Consol for its mining proposal and yet somehow the DEP feels it's appropriate now to issue a permit for full-extraction mining," he said. "We were hearing that DEP was concerned about the ability of the streams to survive since they would be dewatered for at least three years.

"We don't know how that is acceptable, and we don't know what's changed that allowed the permit to be issued. We want to find out."

The appeal said disruption of the streams' "designated uses," which include fishing, is illegal under the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law and the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution.

A portion of the expanded mining acreage granted by the DEP permit was included in the April 2013 settlement agreement between the DEP and Consol that cleared the way for the rebuilding of the Duke Lake Dam.

In that settlement, Consol agreed to pay the state $36 million to rebuild the dam and deed approximately 500 acres of land to expand the park in return for the rights to mine and drill for Marcellus Shale gas under portions of the park. Consol also did not admit to any liability for damaging the dam in 2005.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published May 30, 2014 1:41 PM

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