The $27.5 million civil penalty is the largest in history under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act
Alpha Natural Resources Inc., one of the nation’s largest coal companies, Alpha Appalachian Holdings (formerly Massey Energy) and 66 subsidiaries have agreed to spend an estimated $200 million to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and to implement comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from coal mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced. Overall, the settlement covers approximately 79 active mines and 25 processing plants in these five states.
EPA estimates that the upgrades and advanced treatment required by the settlement will reduce discharges of total dissolved solids by over 36 million lb each year, and will cut metals and other pollutants by approximately 9 million lb per year. The companies will also pay a civil penalty of $27.5 million for thousands of permit violations, which is the largest penalty in history under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
“The unprecedented size of the civil penalty in this settlement sends a strong deterrent message to others in this industry that such egregious violations of the nation's Clean Water Act will not be tolerated,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s agreement is good news for communities across Appalachia, who have too often been vulnerable to polluters who disregard the law. It holds Alpha accountable and will bring increased compliance and transparency among Alpha and its many subsidiaries.”
In addition to paying the penalty, the companies must build and operate treatment systems to eliminate violations of selenium and salinity limits, and also implement comprehensive, system-wide improvements to ensure future compliance with the CWA. These improvements, which apply to all of Alpha’s operations in Appalachia, include developing and implementing an environmental management system and periodic internal and third party environmental compliance audits.
The companies must also maintain a database to track violations and compliance efforts at each outfall, significantly improve the timeliness of responding to violations, and consult with third party experts to solve problem discharges. In the event of future violations, the companies will be required to pay stipulated penalties, which may be increased and, in some cases, doubled for continuing violations.