Southern and Farrell are the final defendants to be charged in connection with the spill of coal washing fluid 4-methylcyclohexene methanol, or MCHM, from its 48,000-gallon storage tank, traveling from the river to a public water intake facility and temporarily cutting off water supplies to at least 300,000 residents of nine West Virginia counties.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Southern pleaded guilty August 19 to violating the federal Clean Water Act, negligently discharging refuse matter in violation of the federal Refuse Act, and failing to have a pollution prevention plan.
Farrell has pleaded guilty to violating the federal Refuse Act and failing to have a pollution prevention plan.
Freedom and four other Freedom officials already entered guilty pleas this past March to environmental crimes.
The Freedom officials, including Farrell and Southern, were first charged in December 2014 with a myriad of federal charges.
“This should serve as a wakeup call to those who operate chemical storage facilities near our precious water resources. If you place our water at risk, you face prison time,” Goodwin said.
“As I said when these individuals were charged, this spill, which was completely preventable, happened to take place in this district, but it could have happened anywhere. If we don’t want it to happen again, we need to make it crystal clear that those who engage in this kind of criminal behavior will be held accountable. That’s exactly what we have done through these prosecutions.”
Southern is facing a 30-day mandatory minimum and up to three years in federal prison. His sentencing is set for December 16.
Farrell, who will be sentenced December 14, faces a mandatory minimum of 30 days and up to two years of federal prison time.
Freedom Industries itself, now in bankruptcy, is scheduled to be sentenced December 10 after a representative of the company pled guilty in March. The company has been charged with violating the Clean Water Act, negligent discharge of refuse matter in violation of the Refuse Act, and violating an environmental permit.