Coal Company to Pay Largest Ever Penalty for Violating Clean Water Act

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Obama administration has levied the largest penalty ever for violations of the Clean Water Act (pdf) in reaching an agreement with one of the nation’s biggest coal companies.

 

Alpha Natural Resources, owner of more than a hundred coalmines and processing plants, will pay a $27.5 million penalty for causing pollution in five states: Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

 

The five states will receive half of the penalty, and the federal government will keep the rest.

 

In addition, the company and 66 of its subsidiaries will spend $200 million to reduce pollution coming out of its coalmines.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which negotiated the deal along with the U.S. Department of Justice, said it recorded more than 6,000 violations of the Clean Water Act from 2006 to 2013 by the Alpha family of companies.

 

In most cases, the company failed to properly operate water treatment systems or even install such systems to prevent pollutants from entering waterways and water supplies. Monitoring records showed that some of the violations involved pollutant releases that were 35 times higher than permits allow.

 

The $200 million will go towards installing wastewater treatment systems and implementing other measures to reduce discharges from 79 of its coal mines and 25 coal-processing plants.

 

“This is the largest one, period,” Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s enforcement office, told the Associated Press. “It’s the biggest case for permit violations for numbers of violations and size of the penalty, which reflects the seriousness of violations.”

 

Not everyone was pleased with the agreement.

 

Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates in West Virginia, said the deal does not address the fundamental problem of heavy pollution created by coal mining operations. “What E.P.A. should do is stop issuing permits that it knows coal companies can’t comply with,” he told The New York Times.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

Coal Firm to Pay Record Penalty and Spend Millions on Water Cleanup in 5 States (by John Schwartz, New York Times)

Kentucky to Share in $27.5 Million Fine over Water Pollution (by James Bruggers, Courier-Journal)

Mine Owner to Pay $209 Million in Death of 29 Men, but Old Boss may be Back in Business (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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