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Enforcement

Southern Coal Corporation Clean Water Settlement

(Washington, DC - September 30, 2016) -  The EPA and the DOJ today announced a settlement with Southern Coal Corporation and 26 affiliated mining companies that 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. 

Overview of Companies and Location of Facilities

Southern Coal Corporation is a coal mining and processing company headquartered in Roanoke, VA. Southern Coal Corporation and the following 26 affiliated entities are located in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia:  Justice Coal Of Alabama, LLC; A & G Coal Corporation; Four Star Resources, LLC; Infinity Energy, Inc.; Kentucky Fuel Corporation; Sequoia Energy, LLC; Virginia Fuel Corporation; National Coal, LLC; Premium Coal Company, Incorporated; S and H Mining Inc.; Airway Resources, L.L.C.; Baden Reclamation Company; Black River Coal, LLC; Chestnut Land Holdings, LLC; Meg-Lynn Land Company, Inc.; Nine Mile Mining, Inc.; Cane Patch Mining Co., Inc.; Bluestone Resources, Inc.; Dynamic Energy, Inc.; Greenthorn, LLC; Justice Highwall Mining, Inc.; National Resources Inc.; Nufac Mining Company, Inc.; Pay Car Mining, Inc.; Second Sterling Corp.; and Newgate Development of Beckley LLC.

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Violations

Since beginning an investigation of Southern Coal Corporation in 2011, the EPA has discovered various Clean Water Act (CWA) violations.  These violations include exceedances of CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for pollutants, such as iron, total suspended solids, aluminum, pH, and manganese, a failure to submit complete and timely discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) and unauthorized discharges. In addition, Southern Coal Corporation failed to respond to EPA’s CWA 308 information requests. 

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Injunctive Relief

The proposed consent decree requires Southern Coal to implement comprehensive injunctive relief at all its mining operations in the Appalachian region. The injunctive relief, costing approximately $5 million, will consist of:

  1. preventative measures, including implementation of a company-wide, EPA-approved environmental management system and periodic internal and third-party environmental compliance auditing;
  2. training for all employees whose responsibilities include environmental compliance and contractors hired to perform duties required by the consent decree;
  3. data tracking and evaluation measures, including centralized audit and violations databases to track information relevant to compliance efforts at each outfall; and
  4. response measures for effluent limit violations, including consultation with a third-party expert and automatic stipulated penalties.

Under the proposed consent decree, Southern Coal must also construct a public website, where it will place all publicly available documents, including NPDES permits, DMRs, water sampling data, effluent violation information, Notices of Violations (NOVs), and compliance orders related to the CWA and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The required injunctive relief supports EPA’s Next Generation Compliance electronic reporting goals. 

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Pollutant Impacts

Mining can have significant environmental and human health consequences. Mining discharges can 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.

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Health and Environment Effects

Southern Coal’s mining operations are located in Appalachia.  The surrounding communities are rural, and many of these rural communities rely on fishing and hunting to survive, and surface mining discharges directly impair streams and watersheds. When the injunctive relief is implemented, the proposed consent decree will help reduce the direct exposure of communities in rural Appalachia to a number of pollutants, including selenium, sulfates, as well as solids, which can significantly impair streams and watersheds. The estimated annual pollutant reductions through implementation of the proposed consent decree, is approximately 5 million pounds. 

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Civil Penalty

Southern Coal Corporation will pay a civil penalty of $900,000, to be split 50/50 between the United States and the state co-plaintiffs; $450,000 to the U.S., and $112,500 to each state.

In addition, as part of the settlement, EPA and the state co-plaintiffs were able to include a 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 letter of credit is for a total of $4.5 million over 4 years, with the first year covering $4.5 million. For each subsequent year, where less work is needed, the letter of credit will decrease by $1 million; for example, in year two of the proposed consent decree’s implementation, the letter of credit will be $3.5 million; in year three, $2.5 million; and in year four, $1.5 million.  

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State and Regional Partners

The consent decree was negotiated with the assistance of local agencies in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

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Comment Period

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

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For more information, contact:

Melissa Raack
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-7039
raack.melissa@epa.gov

Kristin Buterbaugh
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-4479
buterbaugh.kristin@epa.gov

Sanda Howland
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-5022     
howland.sanda@epa.gov

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