The Mountain Watershed Association is dedicated to protecting, preserving and restoring the greater Youghiogheny River watershed through a unique approach of on-the-ground restoration and advocating on local issues as well as regional and national issues that have a local impact.
MWA holds polluters and environmental regulators accountable in order to protect communities and the environment. They are watchdogs that pursue increased stream protections and unsuitable for mining designations in sensitive areas, Through their Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project, they advocate for tighter regulations on shale gas development.
We are proud to have helped MWA use state and federal laws to ensure communities and our water are protected. Together we file complaints with regulatory authorities based on their investigation of citizen reports, appeal questionable permits, and use federal citizen enforcement suits to make sure polluters are following the law.
Mountain Watershed Assoc V. Dep and LTc energy
BACKGROUND - In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued permits to Rustic Ridge Mine No. 1. The Mountain Watershed Association (MWA) was opposed to the Rustic Ridge mine for its impacts on property values, traffic, air and water pollution, aesthetic beauty of our community etc. Our case though, rested on the effect the mine has on our watershed. In particular, we had two strong points in our case: 1) The barrier between an older mine and Rustic Ridge was insufficient and 2) The discharges into Champion Creek would overwhelm the stream.
GETTING THE CASE TO COURT - The process of challenging an environmental permit involves all-out litigation - On appeal, the judge's role would have been to review the Department’s permitting decisions. To overturn a permitting decision, we were required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that DEP either abused its discretion or acted contrary to law.
While overturning a permitting decision is never easy, we engaged numerous experts who would help us carry our burden and establish for the Board the devastating impacts the mine would have under the current permit. Our lawyers and mining expert worked to establish the greatest protections for not only our watershed but also our communities. The commitments that were secured go well beyond what could have been achieved before the Environmental Hearing Board.
OUTCOMES - Through settlement, MWA was able to secure commitments from LCT to amend the most egregious problems with its permits. Settling provided them with access to information our experts deemed important to monitor through the following measures:
Barriers: 800 foot barrier increased to 1400 foot horizontal barrier between the Melcroft No. 3 abandoned mine & the new Rustic Ridge No. 1 Mine; a piezometer will be placed in the barrier to detect water level changes that would indicate an illicit discharge to the Melcroft No. 3; and quarterly monitoring and more frequent monitoring the closer the mining comes to the barrier of that piezometer goes to MWA.
Temperature: relocation of the wastewater outfall to a downstream location just prior to the confluence with Champion Creek.
Flow: 1500 gpm flow from dewatering of the coal seam reduced to 1,000 gpm to ensure that streambed erosion does not occur.
Noise & blasting: eliminated fan shaft & return shaft through development of three slopes in the pit; location of variable frequency fan underground during slope development; peak particle velocity limited to 1.0 inch per second; air blast limited to 126 db; seismograph installed at home nearest to mine & readings from the seismograph go to MWA.
Lighting: dark sky & canopy lighting to be used.
Information: Discharge Monitoring Reports, pumping rates & six month mining map to be provided to MWA regularly.
LESSONS LEARNED - This settlement, which likely looks incredibly practical and reasonable, marks the first time in years that my client actually felt heard in the permit appeal process. On many occasions, we reached out to the governmental decision-makers to try to make the exact points that the settlement agreement ultimately rested upon