Despite EPA deal, Massey water violations more frequent

January 11, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

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Two years ago, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a record $20 million Clean Water Act settlement with Massey Energy, this was the lead of my Gazette story on the deal:

Federal environmental regulators believe a record $20 million fine, new pollution monitoring requirements and the threat of automatic penalties for additional violations will force Massey Energy co. to change the way it does business.

Well … it hasn’t turned out that way, at least according to a new formal Notice of Intent to Sue sent to Massey last week by the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

According to the legal notice, which I’ve posted here:

Remarkably, Massey’s violations have grown more frequent after the settlement with EPA than they were before EPA brought its enforcement action.

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Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

Specifically, the notice alleges that, Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, Massey violated its effluent limits at its various operations at least 971 times, and accrued 12,977 days of violation during that 12-month period. The U.S. government’s lawsuit against Massey, which resulted in the $20 million settlement, alleged more than 60,000 days of violations over a six-year period, or about 10,000 days of violations per year.

The legal notice warns Massey that the citizen groups plan to file a lawsuit against the company, seeking civil penalties and a court order that Massey stop the violations.

Diane Bady of OVEC said:

Massey seems to think that poisoning water by consistently ignoring laws is an acceptable business practice. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection seems to agree, as they continue to allow these violations. We are forced to do the agencies job, to hold Massey accountable.

I’ve asked Massey officials for a comment, and will update this post when I hear from them.

UPDATED … Massey issued the following statement:

The Company just received notice of a potential lawsuit and is currently reviewing the allegations.  On first review, the data and conclusions in the notice appear to be significantly incorrect.  The Company’s compliance rate is well above 99%.

The threatened suit is but another attempt by out of state extremists to attack the coal industry, which works hard to provide domestic energy and domestic jobs.  The Company is evaluating its legal options with respect to the inaccurate statements from these groups.

21 Responses to “Despite EPA deal, Massey water violations more frequent”

  1. Bruce Boyens says:

    As Claude Rains said … in the movie, Casablanca, “Shocking simply shocking, arrest the usual suspects”.

  2. rhmooney3 says:

    Wait a minute, another six years have not passed — this is being done too early.

    Why can’t the coal industry do like the tobacco industry — just pay a one-time penalty?

    Maybe the EPA needs to fine itself…or, like the IRS, offer rewards to snitches.

    (Another heck-of-a-job the EPA is doing.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO2xi0uLnj8 (6 seconds)

    EPA: Radon killed 20,000 Americans in 2009

    PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — Although testing for radon is easy and inexpensive, 80 percent of the homes in the U.S. have not been tested. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that EPA has reported as causing 20,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide every year.

    (Continued)

    http://www.williamsondailynews.com/pages/full_story/push?article–EPA-+Radon+killed+20-000+Americans+in+2009-%20&id=5508466&instance=home_news_lead

    National Radon Action Month
    http://www.epa.gov/radon/nram/

    http://www.epa.gov/radon/images/zonemapcolor_800.jpg

    Zone 1 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than 4 pCi/L (pico curies per liter) (red zones) Highest Potential

    Zone 2 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L (orange zones) Moderate Potential

    Zone 3 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level less than 2 pCi/L (yellow zones)

  3. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, for which I work, is based In Huntington, WV, which is in the Ohio River Valley. Coal River Mountain Watch is based in Whitesville, WV. The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy also is, as you might guess, a West Virginia-based group. The Sierra Club has chapters nationwide, including here in West Virginia.

    Massey is headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, though the company does have an office building in Julian, WV.

  4. eastwood78 says:

    Why should Massey Energy, Inc., comply with any agency, be it state or federal? Massey has always did what they wanted to, and even if the fine of $20 million dollars is collected, it means very little to Massey. Double the fine to $40 million this time, and it will still mean nothing. Massey Energy, Inc. owns our governor “Black Diamond Joe,” and altho Byrd comes out with a sensible statement, that is not good enough for Massey, Governor Manchin, and all the other pro-coal people.

    I read in the Gazette where Mr. Blankenship gets a raise in his great salary. Be nice if he would share some of that with his employees. Very few of Massey employees would dare to make a statement against Massey Energy, Inc.

    I feel for Massey employees for I am sure that many served in the armed forces to protect the rights of all Americans. Freedom of speech is granted to all, but be careful of how it used against Massey.

    Massey employee today; say something bad about Massey, and be in unemployment line tomorrow.

    So sad. Peace to both sides in this continueing issue.

  5. Jim Sconyers says:

    The Sierra Club is 1700 concerned West Virginians who are appalled by the devastation wrought by mountaintop removal.

  6. Vernon says:

    I’m not sure what rhmooney’s lengthy post about radon has to do with this lawsuit, other than maybe the ineffectiveness of EPA actions. The previous settlement, $20 million for what would have been a $2 billion fine at standard rates, was clearly ineffective in deterring Massey from breaking the law. Hopefully the EPA will take note that a 1% settlement doesn’t work. The data comes from Massey’s own reports, so if Massey’s statement that the data appears to be “significantly incorrect” is true, then that would mean the reports they submitted were also incorrect and therefore a violation of the settlement terms.

  7. rhmooney3 says:

    Vernon,

    What does the EPA do that works? (The point of my post about Radon — something that doesn’t have any opposition to addressing it.)

  8. rhmooney3 says:

    IF I was living in WV, I would be more concerned about Radon then flooding than about coal mining impacts — not to dismiss the significance of it.

    My home in SE Ohio had a Radon reading of eight — the first and highest of four tests that I did.

    By chaulking and applying sealant to the basement walls and floor that final reading was a two.

    More radon: http://www.wvdhhr.org/rtia/radon.asp

    The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Geologic Survey conducted surveys of radon potential across the United States. The broke the country down into three zones according to their potential for high indoor radon levels, with Zone 1 having the highest radon potential. It is true that homes in Zones 1 and 2 have a statistically higher chance of having elevated levels of radon. However, the fact is that elevated levels of radon have been found in homes in all fifty states. The radon level I your home depends on the geology under and near your home. The only way to know for sure, and to protect your family from radon, is to test your home.

    The science on radon has been formidable over the years, but never before have we had such overwhelming scientific consensus that exposure to elevated levels of radon causes lung cancer in humans.

    Map: Lung cancer rate in WV by counties
    http://www.wvdhhr.org/bph/oehp/atlas/cancerLung.pdf

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Ok, Bob … If you all want to have a discussion about radon, more power to you. Just start your own blog and do that. This is Coal Tattoo … no more comments on radon. Ken.

  10. […] Charleston Gazette’s Coal Tattoo blog has some great coverage, including a copy of the new filing and an official response from […]

  11. Red Desert says:

    I was confused about rhmooney’s point as well–is the EPA too lax and ineffective or is it an overly aggressive nuisance, interfering with the red-blooded corporation’s natural-born right to to destroy a little land, turn a little profit.

  12. Red Desert says:

    I mean, after all, Don Blankenship’s gotta feed his family.

  13. Casey says:

    His “family” is probably about 10,000 plus, excluding indirect “family” members. As you know he’s set but they aren’t.

  14. […] the notice alleges that, between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, Massey violated its effluent limits at its various operations at least 971 times, and accrued 12,977 days in violation during that 12-month […]

  15. Shelby says:

    As a young lad back in the 1930s, who loved to fish the Guyandotte river, it was upsetting to see thousands of dying fish floating on the rivers’ surface. The fish kill came from upstream Island Creek Coal Co. releasing mine waters. The company did as it pleased back then, as there were NO environmental groups to challenge them. It was wrong back then, and STILL wrong !

  16. […] of Massey Energy, a mountaintop removal company that has racked up thousands of regulatory violations, Richmond, Virginia is no stranger to the dark legacy of reckless coal […]

  17. […] of Massey Energy, a mountaintop removal company that has racked up thousands of regulatory violations, Richmond, Virginia is no stranger to the dark legacy of reckless coal […]

  18. […] of Massey Energy, a mountaintop removal company that has racked up thousands of regulatory violations, Richmond, Virginia is no stranger to the dark legacy of reckless coal […]

  19. […] of Massey Energy, a mountaintop removal company that has racked up thousands of regulatory violations, Richmond, Virginia is no stranger to the dark legacy of reckless coal […]

  20. […] the same time, a new legal action against his company has revealed that Massey’s water pollution violations have become more frequent since a record $20 million Clean Water Act lawsuit settlement with U.S. […]

  21. […] suit follows a formal notice of intent to sue that was filed in January (see previous posts here and here). It was filed on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal […]

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