System-wide upgrades aim to reduce polluted coal-mine discharges in five states
Alpha Natural Resources, Alpha Appalachian Holdings, and 66 subsidiaries will spend an estimated $200 million to install wastewater treatment systems and reduce coal-mine pollution discharges in five states.
WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2014 -- On Wednesday, March 5, the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (Alpha), one of the nation's largest coal companies, Alpha Appalachian Holdings (formerly Massey Energy), and 66 subsidiaries will spend an estimated $200 million to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and implement comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce pollution discharges from coal mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
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 (TDS) by over 36 million pounds each year and will cut metals and other pollutants by approximately 9 million pounds per year. The companies will also pay a civil penalty of $27.5 million for thousands of permit violations -- the largest penalty in history under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
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.
The government complaint alleged that, between 2006 and 2013, Alpha and its subsidiaries routinely violated limits in 336 of its state-issued CWA permits, resulting in the discharge of excess amounts of pollutants into hundreds of rivers and streams in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The violations also included discharge of pollutants without a permit.
In total, EPA documented at least 6,289 violations of permit limits for pollutants that include iron, pH, total suspended solids (TSS), aluminum, manganese, selenium, and salinity. These violations occurred at 794 different discharge points, or outfalls. Monitoring records also showed that multiple pollutants were discharged in amounts of more than twice the permitted limit on many occasions. Most violations stemmed from the company's failure to properly operate existing treatment systems, install adequate treatment systems, and implement appropriate water handling and management plans.
The settlement also resolves violations of a prior 2008 settlement with Massey Energy and applies to the facilities and sites formerly owned by the company. Under the 2008 settlement, Massey paid a $20 million penalty to the federal government for similar CWA violations, in addition to over a million dollars in stipulated penalties over the course of the next two years. Alpha purchased Massey in June 2011 and, since taking over the company, has been working cooperatively with the government in developing the terms of the settlement.
The states of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky are co-plaintiffs in the settlement. The U.S. will receive half of the civil penalty, and the other half will be divided between the co-plaintiffs based on the number of violations in each state, as follows: West Virginia ($8,937,500), Pennsylvania ($4,125,000), and Kentucky ($687,500).
Alpha, headquartered in Bristol, Va., is one of the largest coal companies in the nation. Alpha operates more than 79 active coal mines and 25 coal preparation plants located throughout Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The Wyoming operations are not included in the settlement. For more information, visit www.alphanr.com.