HICKORY – Health of community. Water quality. Truck traffic. Noise. Fracking. Industry responsibility.
These were among the concerns and messages conveyed by audience members at a spirited community meeting Tuesday night in the social hall of Mt. Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Department.
It was the first of four such meetings organized by the Center for Coalfield Justice, a watchdog organization in downtown Washington that addresses environmental issues related to fossil fuel extraction.
“We have worked in gas issues, but traditionally, we deal in coal issues,” said Patrick Grenter, executive director of the group and the emcee.
“We want to share our work and we want to hear your concerns,” Grenter said to an audience of 18, which included – briefly – state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil. A representative from the office of state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, also attended.
Public input from these sessions will help the center determine some subjects it will address and how.
Longwall mining, the subsidence issues and concerns it creates, and threats to air and water are among the center’s primary focuses. They were prominent topics Tuesday in an area known more for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
Rick Hoch, an assistant professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was one of two speakers besides Grenter. He has partnered with the CCJ to create atlases of the region. On Tuesday, he displayed atlases of Washington and Greene counties that show, among other things, the proximity of shale development to drinking water wells, plus coal mining endeavors that lie beneath communities.
“We’re recording and assembling information on health so the public can see and understand it,” said Hoch, describing his roles with the center as “a geographer and planner.”
“There is mass gas harvesting, but also mass coal harvesting in this region,” Hoch said. “That is not happening anywhere else in the United States.”
Raina Rippel, director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, based in Peters Township, answered numerous questions related to her expertise. She also is a former executive director of the CCJ.
“The essence of my project is, ‘What can you do to protect your health if you worry about air and water emissions and your health in general.’
“We say, ‘Here are the steps you can take to protect your health even though the state is not doing everything it can.’”
Rippel outlined those steps in three handouts available to audience members: one on air matters, one on water matters and one on air and water matters for those living near gas drilling.
“We’re seeing drilling at a level we’ve never seen before, and it includes hydraulic fracturing,” she said. “We’re trying to find out about air and water emissions, what toxins are being used in fracking, and determine what you can do to protect your health.”
The meeting closed with a question-and-answer flurry followed by several attendees listing their primary environmental concerns on large sheets of paper taped to a side wall. The aforementioned topics and the one chiding of industry were chronicled, along with concern about property values, possible chromosomal changes to wildlife and the possibility of a diminishing tax base.
The other community meetings will be:
n Today, 6 to 8 p.m., Amwell Volunteer Fire Department social hall, 638 Amity Ridge Road (Route 19).
n Tuesday, 6 to 8 p.m., Carmichaels American Legion, 205 E. George St.
n Jan. 17, 6 to 8 p.m., Morris Township Community Center, 1713 Browns Creek Road (Route 18).
For more information, call 724-229-3550. CCJ’s website is www.coalfieldjustice.org.