ShareThis Page
Longwall mining a source of grief for DEP officials |

Longwall mining a source of grief for DEP officials

| Friday, October 29, 2004 12:00 a.m

A Johnstown native, J. Scott Roberts, is familiar with southwestern Pennsylvania and has heard disgruntled residents say Department of Environmental Protection stands for Don’t Expect Protection.

But, the DEP deputy secretary for mineral resource management said the agency is cognizant of its public image and works to make sure residents believe their voices are heard.

“Certainly, we’re concerned about how people perceive us,” Roberts said. “We have a job to do and that is to execute the laws. We don’t have the power to make decisions contrary to the law. Sometimes we have to make decisions that are not popular because of that.

“We understand that upsets people. In America, people have the freedom of speech. They have the right to their opinions.”

Roberts said it is understandable if the public does not like all DEP decisions.

“But if we fail to hear them in their positions or fail to communicate what we are doing, we have to improve those lines of communication,” Roberts said.

Longwall mining is a hot issue that often frustrates people, Roberts said.

The 1994 amendments to the state’s Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act – known as Act 54 – are the root of many of those frustrations, Roberts said.

“I can’t imagine a law less popular in Pennsylvania,” Roberts said.

Under Act 54, companies that mine coal underground must repair or compensate property owners for mine-related damage to structures on the surface. Such companies also must immediately provide temporary water and permanently replace water supplies lost or contaminated due to mining.

Operators must protect perennial streams in areas they undermine. The law specifies the procedures for resolving damage claims between the mine operator and property owner. The DEP becomes involved only after those efforts fail.

The law requires mine operators to protect public water supplies and prevent mine-related material damage to public buildings and facilities. DEP is required to intervene when homes and agricultural buildings are likely to experience irreparable damage.

Pennsylvania has a rich history in mining, Roberts noted. Some form of mining is being conducted in 66 of the commonwealth’s 67 counties.

But the industry also has a dark side. More than 51,000 miners have lost their lives since the state began to compile statistics in 1870. For every miner who dies in an active e mine, four are killed in abandoned mines, Roberts said.

“The DEP internally sees itself as a regulatory agency,” DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun said. “Therefore it does not take one side or the other. Sometimes that is perceived as taking a side.

“Our job is to interrupt the law as written.”

Rathbun said the Rendell administration has initiated a public outreach program that changed the way regional directors answer to DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty. It also changed the way they deal with local government officials, businesses and the public. The goal is to establish a single point-of-contact

“When a new administration comes in, they inherit a lot of historic issues,” Rathbun said. “It’s a tribute that Kathleen McGinty acknowledges these and is answering for them.”

For residents of Fallowfield or other Mid-Mon Valley communities dealing with mining subsidence, the single point of contact is the staff at the DEP offices in California Technology Park.

Roberts said things are looking up for the DEP -…with one exception.

“If you step away from longwall mining, the DEP’s image is improving with the public,” Roberts said.

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.