Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., one of the nation's largest coal companies, Alpha Appalachian Holdings (formerly Massey Energy) and 66 subsidiaries were hit with a civil penalty of $27.5 million for thousands of permit violations in March — the largest penalty in history under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The companies also agreed to spend an estimated $200 million to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and to implement comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from coal mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The settlement covers about 79 active mines and 25 processing plants in the five states.
According to the government's complaint, Alpha and its subsidiaries routinely violated limits in 336 of its state-issued CWA permits between 2006 and 2013, resulting in discharge of excess amounts of pollutants into hundreds of rivers and streams in the five states. In total, the EPA documented at least 6,289 violations of permit limits for pollutants that occurred at 794 different discharge points. In the event of future violations, the companies will be required to pay stipulated penalties, which may be increased and, in some cases, doubled for continuing violations.
Other acts of pollution in the news recently, involving the dumping of coal ash and chemicals in the nation's rivers and waterways, makes it plain that one of our most precious resources, water, is in danger — as are those who rely on it every day for a myriad of uses. Hopefully, the government will move quickly and forcefully to stop this trend before it causes permanent damage to communities throughout the nation.