DEP rejects petition to protect the Laurel Highlands; MWA appeals

On Friday, March 22, 2024, Mountain Watershed Association filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Environmental Protection’s rejection of the non-profit’s “Unsuitable for Mining” Petition, which could protect 11,000 acres of Laurel Highlands from surface mining. 

After reviewing the Petition, DEP deemed the Petition “frivolous,” claiming the Petition only listed impacts from underground mining and not surface mining, as is required. However, the standards also allow for the DEP to consider impacts from surface activities connected with underground mining. MWA included a lengthy hydrogeology report, which repeatedly referred to these types of impacts, such as the pumping, treating, and discharging of mine water into Jacobs Creek. 

If accepted, the Petition would have triggered an in-depth “technical review” process, wherein DEP and other agencies undergo a roughly year-long analysis to determine if surface mining activities would result in substantial impacts to water supplies, substantially endanger property, or meet any of the four criteria for “unsuitability” set out in the regulations. 

MWA’s hydrogeology report found — amongst many other types of impacts — that surface impacts are likely to result in roughly doubling the flow rate of water in tributaries to Jacobs Creek. Such an extreme increase can lead to permanent destruction of fish and other aquatic habitats.

MWA Community Advocate, Madison Hinkle, said, “MWA submitted nearly 300 pages of materials and we only ask that the Department accept it for review and give it the thorough and proper consideration it deserves.” 

The appeal of the Department’s determination will be heard by the Environmental Hearing Board, a Pennsylvania entity established to review final actions taken by the DEP. To stay up to date with any developments regarding the lawsuit, please join MWA’s mailing list