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Settlement Approved With Southern Coal


Late last week, a federal judge approved a settlement that required pollution reductions and a civil penalty of $900,000 by Southern Coal Corp. and 26 affiliated mining companies owned by West Virginia Gov.-elect Jim Justice.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) originally announced the settlement with the companies in September. It requires the companies to make comprehensive upgrades to their coal mining and processing operations to prevent discharges of polluted wastewater from their mines in Appalachia. The estimated cost of these measures is $5 million.

The settlement also requires the establishment of 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. The $900,000 civil penalty will be divided among the federal government and the four state co-plaintiffs, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

The settlement resolves alleged violations of state-issued Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits by illegally discharging various pollutants at the companies' mining and processing operations in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia and violations of the companies’ legal responsibilities to sample the quality of their discharges to rivers and streams. The estimated annual pollutant reductions through implementation of the settlement is approximately 5 million pounds.

Under the settlement, Southern Coal Corp. and its affiliated mining companies must implement a company-wide, EPA-approved environmental management system; maintain a centralized data management system to track audit results, violations, water sampling data and compliance efforts; construct 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; conduct regular internal and independent third-party environmental audits and outlet inspections and undertaking necessary alterations or maintenance measures; and provide training for all employees whose responsibilities include environmental compliance and contractors hired to perform duties required by the consent decree.

The government complaint filed concurrently with the settlement alleged that over the last five years, Southern Coal Corp. mining and processing operations have violated discharge limits for pollutants including iron, total suspended solids, aluminum, pH and manganese in their state-issued permits. The complaint also alleged that Southern Coal Corp. failed to submit complete and timely discharge monitoring reports, made unauthorized discharges and failed to respond to EPA requests for information. EPA discovered the violations through investigations and inspections of several Southern Coal Corp. mining operations, reviewing various information provided by the companies and coordinating with the affected state governments.

For more information on this settlement and to read the consent decree, visit.