Consol Energy contribution to Scarnati creates appearance of impropriety

HARRISBURG, May 23 – State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, said a campaign contribution by Consol Energy to state Sen. Joseph Scarnati and the introduction two weeks later of legislation specifically targeted to benefit Consol creates the appearance of impropriety.

According to Vitali, on March 29, Consol Energy Inc. PAC made a $5,000 campaign contribution to Scarnati, R-Jefferson. Scarnati introduced S.B. 624 on April 13.

Senate Bill 624, according to Vitali, would reduce protections afforded to streams where coal companies seek to conduct longwall mining operations underneath them. The bill was voted from the Senate Environmental Resource and Energy Committee on Monday along party lines.

Senate Bill 624 would affect a pending case before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B) relating to Consol’s mining activity in and near Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park.

The case was brought three years ago by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Pennsylvania Sierra Club.

A hearing was held in August 2016, and a decision from the state Environmental Hearing Board is expected soon.

Senate Bill 624 has a retroactive effect and would directly affect this case.

According to Vitali, Scarnati’s chief counsel, Drew Crompton, acknowledged that the bill is a response to the pending Consol case.

“This legislation is coming on the cusp of a decision. It blatantly undermines the expertise of the Environmental Hearing Board,” said Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice. “Consol is attempting to legislate away pending litigation and trying to ensure destruction of the remaining streams in Ryerson Station State Park.”

In 2005, mining by Consol permanently damaged Duke Lake in Ryerson Station State Park.

Consol contributed over $136,000 to the Pennsylvania legislature in 2016, according to Vitali. 

According to records, in 2011, Consol paid for Scarnati’s trip to the Super Bowl in Texas. After media criticism, Scarnati later repaid Consol.

“Confidence in government erodes when special-interest groups donate to politicians who in turn push legislation favorable to the donors,” Vitali said. “This unfortunately is a common practice in Harrisburg.”

The bill is now in a position to be considered by the Senate as a whole.

 Vitali said he urges Governor Tom Wolf to veto S.B. 624 should it reached his desk.