Coal producer to pay $5.5M for mining wastewater violations

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WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 14, 2011 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Justice, and state of West Virginia announced today that Consol Energy Inc., the largest producer of coal from underground mines in the United States, has agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty for Clean Water Act violations at six of its mines in West Virginia. In addition to the penalty, Consol will spend an estimated $200 million in pollution controls that will reduce discharges of harmful mining wastewater into Appalachian streams and rivers.

"Complying with the Clean Water Act is a critical responsibility of those who operate mining operations near our nation's treasured rivers, lakes and streams," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The state-of the-art technology required by today's settlement is an important step forward in protecting local waterways and the health of communities in Appalachia."

"In this settlement, Consol takes responsibility for its past failures to abide by the terms of its Clean Water Act permits," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. "As a result of this enforcement action, Consol will install a state-of-the-art system to treat wastewater from multiple mines that will set the standard for the responsible management of discharges from underground mining operations in Appalachia. This settlement will ensure protection of human health and the environment for the benefit of the people who live in Appalachia."

Consol has agreed to build and operate an advanced water treatment plant using reverse osmosis technology near Mannington, W.Va. to remove high levels of chloride from mining wastewater. When completed, the plant will be the largest such water treatment plant in Appalachia and capable of treating 3,500 gallons of mine water per minute, substantially reducing chloride and other salts in mining waters discharged to streams. This treatment will eliminate more than 96 million pounds of total dissolved solids, including more than 11 million pounds of chloride. High levels of chloride and dissolved solids can harm aquatic life, clog irrigation devices and carry toxic chemicals that impact drinking water.

The U.S. government's complaint filed concurrently with the settlement alleges that six Consol mines violated pollution discharge limits in their Clean Water Act permits hundreds of times over the last four years. The complaint alleges chronic exceedances of chloride discharge limits at the Blacksville No. 2, Loveridge, Robinson Run and Four States mines in the Monongahela watershed and the Shoemaker and Windsor mines discharging into tributaries of the Ohio River.

The complaint also alleges that discharges of high amounts of chloride and total dissolved solids from Consol's facilities at Blacksville No. 2 and Loveridge contributed to severe impairment of aquatic life and conditions allowing golden algae to thrive in Dunkard Creek. In September of 2009, a species of golden algae bloomed in Dunkard Creek killing thousands of fish, mussels and amphibians.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

More information on the settlement: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/cwa/consol.html

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