Under the settlement with the EPA and the US Department of Justice, Southern Coal and 26 affiliated mining companies will upgrade their operations to prevent discharges of polluted wastewater from their coal mines in Appalachia, which the agencies estimate will cost $5 million.
The settlement also requires the companies to establish a $4.5 million letter of credit and a standby trust that will guarantee sufficient funding for, and a mechanism to accomplish, compliance with the Clean Water Act and the work the companies have agreed to perform under the settlement, should the companies fail to do so. This comes as coals companies, increasingly going bankrupt or experiencing other financial troubles, are running out of money to clean up their sites, leaving the taxpayers to foot the bill.
The companies will also pay a $900,000 civil penalty, divided among the federal government and Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
The feds allege that over the past five years the coal companies violated their Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits by illegally discharging pollutants into rivers and streams at their mining and processing operations in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. These pollutants include iron, total suspended solids, aluminum, pH and manganese in their state-issued permits.
The compliance and prevention upgrades required by the settlement are expected to reduce annual pollutants by about 5 million pounds, the EPA says.
Additional measures required by the settlement include:
- Implementing a company-wide, EPA-approved environmental management system.
- Maintaining a centralized data management system to track audit results, violations, water sampling data and compliance efforts.
- Constructing a public website for posting documents such as NPDES permits, discharge monitoring reports, water sampling data, effluent violation information, notices of violations and compliance orders.
- Conducting regular internal and independent third-party environmental audits and outlet inspections and undertaking necessary alterations or maintenance measures.
- Providing training for all employees whose responsibilities include environmental compliance and contractors hired to perform duties required by the consent decree.
- Paying escalating stipulated penalties if Clean Water Act permit violations continue to occur.