In an agreement announced today, Massey Energy will pay $20 million in fines levied against them by the U.S. EPA for thousands of Clean Water Act permit violations associated with their mining operations. The agreement comes after the federal government found that Massey illegally dumped coal slurry waste, rubble, wastewater and other pollutants into Appalachian waterways.
"For seven years the Bush administration allowed the coal industry to have its way with West Virginia's mountains and communities," said Joe Lovett Attorney with Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment. "We're pleasantly surprised that EPA is taking the first steps to correct the coal industry's most flagrant abuses."
A coalition of environmental groups including Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, sought to intervene in the case, one of the largest Clean Water Act violations cases in the history of the law.
"If the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, instead of ignoring these blatant Clean Water Act violations, had brought this action itself, this money would be going to state coffers instead of federal," said Judy Bonds with Coal River Mountain Watch.
The federal government stepped in to regulate Massey after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection consistently failed to hold the company accountable for its pollution. During the investigation the federal government documented over 4,600 cases of pollution being illegally dumped into local waters by Massey and its subsidiaries, which operate dozens of mountaintop removal and other large-scale surface mines in Appalachia.
"It's unconscionable that West Virginia maintains primacy for the water permitting program when it fails to utilize the basic enforcement tools provided by the Clean Water Act," said Cindy Rank, Mining Committee Chair of West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "The West Virginia DEP is responsible for tracking compliance with water permits and taking action against companies when they violate the terms of their permits and yet here are thousands of violations by one company alone that have gone untended. The waterways of West Virginia -- and the people who rely on them -- deserve more."
In addition to paying the fine Massey will have to take a number of measures aimed at preventing future violations including:
- Hire independent monitoring consultants
- Devise a tracking system for future reporting of pollutant discharges
- Abide by extensive monitoring requirements, with reports to be sent to environmental groups as well as government agencies
- Internal audits of treatment systems when sampling discharges
- Additional testing and reporting obligations
"When citizens complain to DEP about violations and troubles from mountaintop removal sites, the agency ignores us instead of working to protect us," said Chuck Nelson, a member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "Perhaps this action will finally make DEP realize citizen concerns about mountaintop removal are real. Maybe the fine will make Massey stop breaking the law as a routine part of doing business. Now that the federal EPA has smacked DEP for allowing Massey to flagrantly violate the Clean Water Act, the EPA needs to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from illegally issuing valley fill permits."
Massey is one of many coal mining companies that use a devastating form of mining known as mountaintop removal mining. The environmental groups won a successful lawsuit in federal court last year challenging five mountaintop removal mining permits approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers that violate federal laws.
"Massey is now going to pay for their Clean Water Act violations and we are glad the federal EPA is requiring the company to comply with the law," said Earthjustice attorney Steve Roady. "However, it is inconsistent that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are actually allowing Massey and other coal companies to violate a different part of the Clean Water Act by blowing the tops off West Virginia's mountains and burying nearby streams with their waste. As a result, thousands of miles of Appalachian streams have been buried."
Massey's mountaintop removal mines use some of the most environmentally devastating types of mining, flattening the landscape and burying miles of streams. Mountaintop removal mining has already permanently buried more than 1,500 miles of streams and flattened 500,000 acres of mountains in Appalachia.
"This settlement is a good first step, but to truly protect the people and environment of Appalachia we need to change the way we think about energy," said Alice McKeown, analyst with the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign. "We need to make sure that coal is mined responsibly, burned cleanly and does not contribute to global warming."
Steve Roady / Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
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