Thursday, December 21, 2023

PA Enviro Groups File Appeal For Removal Of Coal Ash 'Mountain’ At Stronghold Digital Mining Scrubgrass Cryptocurrency Power Facility In Venango County

On December 21,
Earthjustice, on behalf of Scrubgrass Creek Watershed Association and PennFuture, announced they have filed an appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board to overturn or modify DEPs decision to allow the Stronghold Digital Mining, Inc. cryptocurrency Scrubgrass power plant a four-year delay to remove its unpermitted coal ash pile situated near the Allegheny River in Kennerdell, Venango County. 

Click Here for a copy of the appeal.

Initially detected during a Department of Environmental Protection site inspection, the coal ash mountain has surpassed the approved size, enveloping parts of the surrounding area, according to the groups. 

The existing agreement between Scrubgrass and the DEP falls short in safeguarding against the plant's mountain of toxic coal ash which threatens to pollute groundwater, said the groups.

It also lacks provisions for immediate interim measures to alleviate and prevent future contamination. 

The notice of appeal states that the DEP's consent order and agreement with Scrubgrass fails to include protections required under the state Solid Waste Management Act and the federal Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Rule. 

The agreement specifically fails to address standards related to run-on and run-off controls, inspections, groundwater monitoring, corrective action, and, more broadly, Scrubgrass' obligation to address practices that "pose a reasonable probability of adverse effects on health or the environment."

The Scrubgrass Power Plant, owned by cryptocurrency mining company Stronghold Digital Mining, Inc., uses waste coal to fuel its operations, which results in large quantities of coal ash. 

In 2022, DEP inspections documented an enormous, unpermitted coal ash waste pile at the Scrubgrass plant that violates state and federal law. 

According to the groups, the unauthorized coal ash waste pile at Scrubgrass is one of many negative environmental practices at plants owned by Stronghold, which has repeatedly made claims about its operations as part of the company's ongoing greenwashing effort.

"DEP must require the immediate removal of this coal ash mountain," said Charles McPhedran, Senior Attorney with Earthjustice. "DEP must also require Scrubgrass to take steps to prevent contamination from this mountain from spreading."

"Coal ash poses serious risks for surface water, groundwater, human health, and the environment. The escalating problem of coal ash at Scrubgrass shows that Stronghold's efforts at greenwashing are superficial at best. The DEP must demand the immediate removal of this unauthorized and uncontained 'mountain,' not give the cryptomining site years. Crypto mining companies cannot be allowed to ignore the environmental impacts of their operations and shift those costs to the people," said Emma Bast, Staff Attorney, PennFuture.

"This coal ash mountain threatens to pollute the Federally designated Wild and Scenic Allegheny River corridor. Anything short of an immediate removal of this harmful ash mountain disregards the likely damage already inflicted, potentially contaminating groundwater and dispersing dust through the air," said Tom Thomas of the Scrubgrass Creek Watershed Association.

Despite the negative effect of fossil fuel burning on our climate, Stronghold has repeatedly positioned itself as "actively improving the environment." 

The groups said the company's website states that Stronghold's waste coal burning is "environmentally beneficial" and helps reduce waste in the state, though data from the US Environmental Protection Agency shows the Scrubgrass plant generated over 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022 - more emissions than 100,000 cars over the course of an entire year. 

The company also boasts that its generation facilities "remove mining waste and convert it into electricity," and is "actively improving the environment," the company itself has "discarded in mountainous piles" coal ash, as was found by DEP at the Scrubgrass plant.

Coal ash is the waste leftover from burned waste coal, containing a mix of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hazardous materials linked to health issues including cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm. 

In November, the US Environmental Protection Agency published a draft risk assessment stating that the health risks caused by radioactivity from coal ash are much greater than previously estimated.

In response, Earthjustice signed a letter alongside more than 150 other public interest groups that urged the agency to "protect the health of vulnerable communities nationwide from dangerous placement of toxic coal ash" and ban the widespread use of toxic coal ash in place of soil for construction and landscaping projects in residential areas.

Resource Links:

-- U.S. Senate Hearing: Energy, Environmental Impacts Of Cryptocurrency Mining In Pennsylvania. [PaEN]

-- EarthJustice, Sierra Club Guide On Cryptocurrency Mining Operations

-- Stronghold Digital Mining: Stronghold Mined 193 Bitcoin In November 2023

Related Articles:

-- Carbon County Residents Urge DEP To Deny Stronghold Digital Mining, Inc. Request To Burn Tires To Fuel Its Cryptocurrency Mining Operation At The Panther Creek Power Plant [PaEN]

-- House Passes Bill Requiring Registration Of Cryptocurrency Mining Operations, Impact Study  [PaEN]

[Posted: December 21, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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