Gov. Tom Wolf declined on Friday to veto a bill that makes it easier to develop a long-wall coal mine beneath a state park in Greene County, allowing it to become law despite pressure from environmentalists who say it will damage streams.
Senate Bill 624 allows the Department of Environmental Protection to issue permits for the expansion of the Consol Energy mine at Ryerson State Park on the assumption that the mining would not cause permanent damage to waterways that flow above the coal face.
The bill’s sponsors, led by Republican Senator Joe Scarnati, argue that the law will facilitate mine development and create jobs while requiring the operator, or other mine owners, to restore any stream to its original condition after it is blocked or diverted during the mine work.
Wolf said in a statement that the new law would not weaken environmental protections.
“Under this law, mining companies will continue to be required to submit extensive permit applications documenting existing flow rates and biological communities present in potentially affected waterways, and a plan to restore those waterways to pre-mining conditions within a set time period,” Wolf said.
DEP will continue to deny or require applications to be amended where it is not confident, based on an independent review and analysis of the application, that a proposed restoration plan will achieve a requirement under the Clean Streams Law, the Governor said.
DEP permits for the Ryerson operation are being challenged by two environmental groups at the Environmental Hearing Board, which is expected to rule on whether the case can proceed now that the bill has become law.
Rep. Greg Vitali, a Delaware County Democrat, said the new law would damage streams at Ryerson and in other long-wall mining locations.
Vitali said the law also violates a state constitutional ban on “special legislation” for a particular company in a particular location, and violates the constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment which the state Supreme Court recent ruled requires the state to act as a trustee, not a proprietor, of natural resources.
Vitali said he plans to participate in legal action challenging the constitutionality of the bill.
“This is a triumph of special interest group influence over good environmental policy,” he said.