EPA: Arch Coal to pay $4 million for water violations

March 1, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

This just in from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Justice Department announced today that Arch Coal Inc., the second largest supplier of coal in the United States, has agreed to pay a $4 million dollar penalty for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Under the settlement, Arch Coal will implement changes to its mining operations in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act.

“Violations at mining operations can have significant environmental and public health consequences, including the pollution of the waters that people use for drinking, swimming and fishing,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “It is critical that companies operating next door to homes, schools and other businesses meet the standards established to protect the health and the environment for these communities.”

“The measures required by this settlement will prevent pollutants from entering waterways and bring wide-ranging improvements to mining operations in four mining complexes across three states,” said Ignacia. S. Moreno, assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “These changes will mean a healthier environment for local communities and will help ensure Arch Coal’s compliance with the Clean Water Act.”

As part of the settlement, Arch Coal has agreed to take measures that will prevent an estimated 2 million pounds of pollution from entering the nation’s waters each year. Arch will also implement a treatment system to reduce discharges of selenium, a pollutant found in mine discharges. Selenium runoff from mining operations can build up in streams and have an adverse impact on aquatic organisms.

Arch Coal has agreed to implement a series of inspections, audits and tracking measures to ensure treatment systems are working properly and that future compliance is achieved. The company is also required to develop and implement a compliance management system to help foster a top-down, compliance and prevention-focused approach to Clean Water Act issues.

A joint federal-state complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia by the United States, West Virginia, and Kentucky alleged numerous violations of Arch Coal’s permits that set limits on pollutants to be discharged into streams. The alleged excess discharges of iron, total suspended solids, manganese and other pollutants reflect deficiencies in operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment systems in place at four of the company’s mining facilities: Coal Mac, Inc; Lone Mountain Processing, Inc; Cumberland River Coal Co.; and Mingo Logan Coal Co.

Under the settlement, $2 million of the $4 million civil penalty will be paid to the United States and the remaining $2 million will be divided between West Virginia and Kentucky based on the percentage of alleged violations in each state. The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

More about the settlement is available here, and the settlement is online here.

5 Responses to “EPA: Arch Coal to pay $4 million for water violations”

  1. rhmooney3 says:

    So, it’s cheaper — more profitable — to pay penalties than to be compliant?

    While $4 million seems to be a hefty expenses it is not much in contrast to staying in compliance.

    This aspect should be more transparent in such settlements.

  2. Casey says:

    I’m not sure how you know what the costs would have been for compliance that would allow your statement.

  3. rhmooney3 says:

    True, it’s not possible to know which is my point.

    Violators are not required to devulge such information and regulators purposefully avoid acknowledging that it’s cheaper to pay so-called penalties than to be compliant.

    For sure, Massey Energy was doing well even though incurring a lot of penalties.

  4. Rob says:

    I agree that this is just the cost of doing business. The company reporting requirements listed in the settlement require the company to submit Quarterly non-compliance reports for all its mines as I read it. These are usually only required for major polluters. Should be all large surface mines in my mind, but it only officially applies to a select few.

    This is good news but also troubling because we are relying on company self reporting and testing. I don’t support self regulation because I don’t think it is very effective.

  5. Casey says:

    Again, I agree with your comment “it’s not possible to know” but disagree with your conflicting statement “regulators purposefully avoid acknowledging that it’s cheaper to pay so-called penalties than to be compliant.”

    I looked at 2008-2010 profits for the all of the major U.S. publicly traded coal companies and saw that profits totaled $27MM to $2.2B, except for Massey which lost $6MM. So I disagree with your statement “Massey Energy was doing well even though incurring a lot of penalties.”

Leave a Reply