(Adds detail of complaint, DOJ comment, company response,
background on recent spills, share price)
By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON, March 5 Alpha Natural Resources Inc.
, one of the largest U.S. coal producers, has reached a
consent decree to settle a complaint about pollution discharged
by coal mines into Appalachian rivers and streams, federal
authorities said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection
Agency said Alpha will spend about $200 million to install and
operate wastewater treatment systems and to implement
comprehensive upgrades to reduce the level of pollution from
mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West
Overall, the settlement covers about 79 active mines and 25
processing plants in the five states, operated by Alpha, Alpha
Appalachian Holdings (formerly Massey Energy) and 66
The companies also will pay a civil penalty of $27.5 million
for thousands of permit violations - the largest ever under
Section 402 of the Clean Water Act - to be divided among the
federal government and state agencies.
"The unprecedented size of the civil penalty in this
settlement sends a strong deterrent message to others in this
industry," said Robert Dreher of the Justice Department's
Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The government had alleged that between 2006 and 2013, Alpha
and its subsidiaries routinely violated limits in 336 of its
state-issued Clean Water Act permits.
That resulted in the discharge of excess amounts of
pollutants into hundreds of rivers and streams across five
Communities across Appalachia "have too often been
vulnerable to polluters who disregard the law," Dreher said. "It
holds Alpha accountable and will bring increased compliance and
transparency among Alpha and its many subsidiaries."
The EPA said the upgrades will reduce the discharge of total
dissolved solids by more than 36million pounds per year and cut
metals and other pollutants by approximately 9 million pounds
In a release, Bristol, Virginia, based Alpha said its
compliance with water quality statutes was 99.8 percent in 2013.
"That's a strong record of compliance, particularly
considering it's based on more than 665,000 chances to miss a
daily or monthly average limit. But our goal is to do even
better," Gene Kitts, Alpha's senior vice president of
environmental affairs, said in a statement.
As part of the settlement, the companies must also maintain
a database to track violations and compliance efforts, and
improve the timeliness of responding to violations.
In recent weeks two high-profile cases have focused
attention on the issue of drinking water safety.
Thousands of tons of coal ash from a Duke Energy Corp
plant fouled the Dan River in Eden, North Carolina, last
month. In January, a chemical spill from a coal plant near
Charleston, West Virginia, contaminated the drinking water of
about 300,000 residents.
The EPA's complaint did not allege that Alpha's violations
posed a risk to human health.
"The public expects that regulators ensure that water
quality is protected and that companies comply with their
permits," Kitts said. "That's the way it should be."
Alpha Natural Resources closed at $5.24 per share, down 1.3
percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Bill Trott)