The deal resolves Clean Water Act violations by the operator in West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. A $900,000 civil penalty will also be split among all of the states aside from West Virginia, as they were not part of the initial lawsuit.
The establishment of a $4.5 million letter of credit and a standby trust is also required; 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, according to the EPA.
Other elements of the deal include the implementation of a company-wide, EPA-approved environmental management system; the maintenance of a centralized data management system to track audit results, violations, water sampling data and compliance efforts; the construction of 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; regular internal and independent third-party environmental audits and outlet inspections with any needed alterations or maintenance measures; and training for all employees whose responsibilities include environmental compliance and contractors hired to perform duties required by the consent decree.
Should violations continue to occur, the company will also be subject to escalating stipulated penalties.
The EPA estimated the annual pollutant reduction will be about 5 million pounds.
Southern officials said the settlement was similar to others reached with the regulators by other coal companies. It has also worked to improve its compliance rate, according to spokesman Tom Lusk.
“After two years of working closely with the EPA, we are pleased that an agreement has been reached, and Southern Coal will continue working with state and federal regulators to maintain our current 99.8% compliance rate and implement additional best practices in environmental management to reach 100% compliance,” he said. “When Southern Coal took over some of these struggling coal operations, we knew there were violations we would have to catch up on, and we are doing it. While the Obama administration has been tough on…our industry in these difficult times for coal, we are focused on striking a balance with full regulatory compliance and keeping our coal miners working.”
A proposed consent decree has been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and is now under a 30-day public comment period. It is also subject to approval by the federal court.
The consent decree can be viewed here.