, January 17, 2008 (ENS) - The fourth largest coal company in the United States, Massey Energy, has agreed to pay a $20 million civil penalty to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations at coal mines in West Virginia and Kentucky, the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced today.
This is the largest civil penalty in EPA's history levied against a company for wastewater discharge permit violations. Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance called it a landmark settlement for the environment that "raises the bar for the mining industry."
In a complaint filed May 10, 2007, the government alleged that Massey violated its Clean Water Act permits more than 4,500 times between January 2000 and December 2006.
Massey is alleged to have discharged excess amounts of metals, sediment, and acid mine drainage into hundreds of rivers and streams in West Virginia and Kentucky.
The EPA says some pollutants were discharged at levels more than 10 times over the permit limits. Many of the pollutants were discharged in amounts 40 percent or more than allowed.
Massey is alleged to have spilled into local waterways numerous times large amounts of slurry, a waste containing metals and sediment. Sediment can clog streams and harm fish habitats.
The spills occurred as a result of failures in the processing, storage, and transportation of coal slurry, the EPA says.
As part of the settlement, Massey has agreed to take measures at all of its facilities that will prevent an estimated 380 million pounds of sediment and other pollutants from entering the nation's waters each year. "These compliance measures are unprecedented in the coal mining industry,"
Massey executives say the $20 million settlement avoids expensive litigation, resolves questions about the company's potential liability and enhances Massey's environmental protection efforts.
"We believe this agreement will benefit the environment as well as our shareholders," said Baxter F. Phillips, Jr., a member of Massey Energy's Board of Directors and the company's executive vice president and chief administrative officer.
"We will be setting a new standard for environmental compliance in the coal industry," said Phillips.
In addition to the penalty, Massey will invest some $10 million to develop and implement a set of procedures to prevent future violations.
The company has developed a computer tracking system that will provide accelerated notification of potential water quality problems, automated leak detection systems for the company's coal preparation plants, and an enhanced environmental auditing program that also will use computer technology.
Massey Energy also agreed to perform 20 water quality improvement projects on the Little Coal River in West Virginia downstream from mining operations. Also the company will set aside 200 acres of riverfront property, protecting the land from future mining development through conservation easements.
Commenting on the settlement, Massey Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship said, "It was important to us that the agreement have local environmental benefits."
Massey Energy has asked the award- winning Coal River Group based in West Virginia for assistance in monitoring the conservation easement properties to ensure that the 200 acres are protected.
"We are excited about the opportunity to increase the amount of land protected by conservation easements as part of our efforts," said Bill Currey, president of the Coal River Group.
The EPA said in the settlement agreement that it considered the outcome "fair, reasonable, and in the public interest." The agreement was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and must be approved by the court before it becomes final.
Massey, the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia, owns and operates 33 underground mines and 11 surface mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, with corporate headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. Massey controls 2.3 billion tons, or about one-third, of the coal reserves in Central Appalachia.
"The measures required by this settlement represent a significant step forward in the way that mining facilities currently address Clean Water Act compliance," said Ronald Tenpas, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "This settlement will greatly benefit citizens in West Virginia and Kentucky and improve many of our nation's waters for years to come."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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