Andrea Sears

GREENE COUNTY, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) has ruled that a revised underground mining permit violates the state’s Clean Streams Law and the state constitution.

The permit, issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2015, would have allowed longwall coal mining under Polen Run, a stream flowing into Ryerson Station State Park.

Two community groups challenged the permit saying it was granted despite knowledge that mining would cause extensive damage to the stream.

Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, calls the EHB ruling an important victory for the environment.

“The ruling is putting the industry and DEP on notice that it has to start doing a better job of developing mining plans to protect streams,” she states.

The revised permit would have required the mining company to repair the stream after the damage was done.

But Coptis points out that stream reclamation efforts often fail.

“In this watershed and particularly around Ryerson Station State Park, we have not seen it be successful at restoring streams that have been damaged from mining,” she stresses.

Polen Run is one of the few remaining water features in the park.

A new state law creating an exemption to the Clean Streams Law has been signed and is under review.

But Coptis notes that the EHB also agreed with the challenge to the permit on constitutional grounds.

“So as that law gets approval by the Office of Surface Mining and becomes enacted, the DEP still has to follow the constitutional rights of Article I, section 27,” she points out.

That article guarantees the people of Pennsylvania the right to “clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”