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Enforcement

Alpha Natural Resources Inc. Settlement

(Washington, DC - March 5, 2014) - Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (Alpha), one of the nation’s largest coal companies, Alpha Appalachian Holdings (formerly Massey Energy), and 66 subsidiaries have agreed to spend an estimated $200 million on installing and operating wastewater treatment systems and implementing comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from coal mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today. Overall, the settlement covers approximately 79 active mines and 25 processing plants in these five states.

Overview of Company and Facility Locations

Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (Alpha), headquartered in Bristol, Virginia, is the top metallurgical coal supplier in the United States, with approximately 79 active mines and 25 coal preparation plants throughout Appalachia and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.  Alpha owns and operates mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  Alpha’s corporate umbrella includes the company formerly known as Massey Energy Company, which it acquired in June of 2011.

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Violations 

Alpha and its subsidiaries violated Section 301 of the Clean Water Act, and terms and conditions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, issued pursuant to the Clean Water Act Section 402.  Alpha’s violations, resolved by the settlement, include approximately 6,289 permit exceedances in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

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Injunctive Relief

Under the Consent Decree, Alpha must address NPDES permit exceedances from their mining operations in Appalachia by conducting comprehensive audits, implementing corrective measures, and installing treatment technologies. Specific remedial measures include an improved, corporate-wide environmental management system, regular and consistent compliance audits, treatment system audits, upgraded electronic tracking and reporting of all NPDES permit exceedances, audits of tracking and reporting systems, and training of all employees. All of these actions will be audited by a third party to ensure the injunctive relief is proceeding as required by the settlement. 

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Pollutant Reductions

The injunctive relief provided for in the consent decree is estimated to drastically reduce discharges of total dissolved solids by over 36,000,000 pounds each year and will cut discharges of metals and other pollutants by approximately 9,000,000 pounds per year. 

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Health and Environmental Effects

Surface mining has significant environmental and human health consequences.  Surface mining discharges impair streams and watersheds.  Sediment-laden runoff can result in increased turbidity and decreased oxygen in receiving waters, which in turn can result in loss of in-stream habitat for fish and other aquatic species.  Sediment can kill fish directly, destroy spawning beds, suffocate fish eggs and bottom dwelling organisms, and block sunlight resulting in reduced growth of beneficial aquatic grasses.  Excess levels of metals commonly found in mining discharges, such as iron and aluminum, can be toxic to fish by disrupting metabolic and reproductive systems.  Precipitation of these metals can destroy habitat needed by macro invertebrates.

Selenium can bioaccumulate through aquatic food webs and high levels of selenium can cause toxic effects in fish and birds.  Selenium has been associated with increased death and deformities in fish and reduced hatching in birds. Selenium can be toxic to humans, but at significantly higher levels than to aquatic life.

Osmotic pressure is based on the level of dissolved salts and other constituents in the water.  Increased levels of salts, as measured by osmotic pressure, disrupt the life cycle of freshwater aquatic organisms. Freshwater animals can be exposed directly through their gills or other breathing surfaces.  Some freshwater plants and animals can adjust to saltier waters, but many are unable to cope with extreme ranges of salinity. Water with high salt concentrations downstream of mountaintop mines and valley fills is toxic to some stream organisms, disrupting ionic and osmoregulatory functions. 

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Civil Penalty

Alpha will pay a civil penalty of $27,500,000 for its Clean Water Act violations; $13,750,000 will go to the United States, $8,937,500 to West Virginia, $4,125,000 to Pennsylvania, and $687,500 to Kentucky.  This civil penalty was derived according to the CWA Settlement Penalty Policy.

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State Partners

The State of West Virginia and the Commonwealths of Kentucky and Pennsylvania are co-plaintiffs.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact

Melissa K. Raack
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW (Mail Code 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-7039
raack.melissa@epa.gov

Mahri Monson
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW (Mail Code 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-2657
monson.mahri@epa.gov

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