Coal Tattoo

Mitt Romney, Murray Energy and coal criminals

We’ve written before here on Coal Tattoo about the fact that renegade coal operator Bob Murray played a major role recently in a campaign fundraiser in Wheeling, W.Va., for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Readers of this blog know well the record of Mr. Murray’s company at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, and may recall that one of Murray’s subsidiaries pleaded guilty to criminal mine safety violations related to the August 2007 disaster that killed six miners and three rescue workers.

What you may not have heard — and certainly won’t see reported by the media outlets that constantly promote the notion of a “war on coal” by the Obama administration — is that another of Murray’s subsidiaries recently pleaded guilty to criminal Clean Water Act violations at one of its operations in Ohio. Here’s what The Associated Press reported last week:

An Ohio company pleaded guilty Friday to criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act involving coal-wastewater spills into a southeast Ohio stream — spills that could cost the company more than $7 million.

The Ohio Valley Coal Company pleaded guilty to the two misdemeanor violations in U.S. District Court in Columbus in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. The judge will review the agreement before deciding whether to approve it and the pleas, court officials said.

The agreement involved spills of wastewater into Captina Creek in Belmont County in 2008 and 2010. The 2010 spill of coal-wastewater, or slurry, killed more than 4,000 fish and animals.

In addition to pleading to violating a federal water pollution permit, the company also will pay more than $1 million in federal and state fines and restitution under the agreement. As part of the agreement, the company already has installed a $6 million double-walled slurry pipeline.

 The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Ohio Valley in 2008 “negligently” failed to sample and monitor the flow of pollutants discharged from a holding pond at its Powhatan Mine No. 6 and the illegal discharge of coal slurry turned the creek black for 22 miles downstream.

The 2010 pipeline rupture at a coal preparation plant in Beallsville that spilled thousands of gallons of slurry into the stream violated the company’s wastewater discharge permit, prosecutors said.

Ohio Valley will pay a $500,000 fine to the federal government, $455,000 in fines and restitution to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and $95,000 in fines and restitution to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, if the judge approves the agreement.

Captina Creek, considered to be one of the highest quality streams in the state, is one of the only Ohio locations where the state endangered and federally threatened Hellbender salamander is actively breeding, according to the Ohio EPA.

Interestingly, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbus successfully prosecuted two top Ohio Valley Coal mine managers — Donald Meadows and David Bartsch — for their roles in these crimes. Both were sentenced to probation and community service.

The Ohio Environmental Law Center had this to say on its blog about the Murray plea agreement:

The coal industry keeps telling us that today’s coal is clean.  This guilty plea is prima facie evidence that coal is not, nor ever can be clean. We need to loosen coal’s stranglehold on our watersheds and on our coalfield communities. The industry and its regulators at ODNR and Ohio EPA need to find alternatives to disposing of coal waste in our most healthy watersheds, and the Administration has to continue and increase its support for energy efficiency, co-generation, and renewable energy.

The question for Governor Romney, of course, is whether he thinks criminal behavior by coal companies, especially when it kills workers and damages the environment, is acceptable. If not, why is he buddies with Bob Murray?