America’s largest producer of coal from underground mines, Consol Energy Inc., has agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty for Clean Water Act violations at six of its mines in West Virginia, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of West Virginia have announced.
In addition to the penalty, Consol will spend an estimated $200 million in pollution controls that will reduce discharges of harmful mining wastewater into local streams and rivers.
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 chloride discharge limits were massively exceeded at the Blackville 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.
As part of the settlement, 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 will be capable of treating 3,500 gallons of mine water per minute. This treatment will eliminate more than 96 million pounds of total dissolved solids, including more than 11 million pounds of chloride, according to the EPA.
Consol has taken responsibility for its past failures to abide by the terms of its Clean Water Act permits, according to the Department of Justice.
Earlier this month, Arch Coal – the second biggest coal supplier in the U.S. – agreed to pay $4 million to settle EPA allegations that it violated the Clean Water Act in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.
Similar to the Consol settlement, the complaints against Arch Coal alleged numerous violations of the limits of pollutants it discharges.
In January the EPA had revoked a water permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia, saying it would pollute water, harm wildlife and Appalachian communities in West Virginia. A bipartisan bill was subsequently introduced to the U.S. Congress that would prevent the EPA issuing such retroactive permit revocation.
And regulation of the mining industry has also been raised during the ongoing federal budget negotiations. In February, a budget passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives but rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate contained an amendment that would block funding for EPA measures aimed at tightening water quality regulations on Appalachian mining operations.
The stalled budget bill also contained a measure aimed stopping the EPA from blocking Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mining and an amendment that would block EPA funds for regulating coal ash.