On March 5, 2014, the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Justice Department announced and filed a proposed settlement agreement (also called a consent decree) for violations by Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., of water-pollutant discharge permits at 79 coal mines and 25 coal-processing facilities in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia. The proposed settlement, which also included the state environmental agencies in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia; it must undergo a public-comment period and be approved by the federal court before it takes effect. If the proposed settlement is approved, Alpha—headquartered in Bristol, Va.—will pay a $27-million civil penalty and will be required to spend about $200 million to improve treatment and monitoring of discharges into streams from coal-related operations. The EPA claims that, between 2006 and 2013, some 6000 instances occurred where water discharges by Alpha and over 60 subsidiary companies exceeded the levels of several pollutants allowed under state-issued discharge permits. According to Alpha’s March 5 news release on the settlement agreement, the pollutants at issue are mostly aluminum, iron, manganese, and selenium, and the state-permit limits at issue in the settlement are primarily focused on protection of aquatic life, rather than on protection of public drinking-water supplies. Over half of the violations at issue are alleged to have occurred from operations by the Massey Energy company, which was fined $20 million by the federal government in 2008 for similar problems and was acquired in 2011 by Alpha.
Record water pollution fines sought for coal mine operators in states including Va., Associated Press, as published by Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/6/14; and Leading coal producer agrees to pay record fine to clean polluted waters across Appalachia, PBS NewsHour video segment (5 min/47 sec; interview with writer of Associated Press article listed above), 3/5/14.