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Arch Coal Settles on Clean Water

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Arch Coal, the second largest coal supplier in the U.S., agreed to pay a $4 million fine for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky in a settlement reached earlier this month with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Arch will implement changes to its mining operations in those states “to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act,” the EPA said. The measures will prevent an estimated 2 million pounds of pollution from entering the nation’s waters each year. Arch will also implement a treatment system to reduce discharges of selenium, a pollutant found in mine discharges.

The joint federal-state complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia alleged numerous violations of Arch Coal’s permits that set limits on the discharge of pollutants into streams. EPA said alleged excess discharges of iron, total suspended solids, manganese and other pollutants “reflect deficiencies in operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment systems” in place at four of Arch’s mining facilities: Coal Mac, Inc.; Lone Mountain Processing, Inc.; Cumberland River Coal Co.; and Mingo Logan Coal Co.

Arch also agreed to implement a series of inspections, audits and tracking measures to ensure treatment systems are working properly and that future compliance is achieved. In addition company is required to develop and implement a compliance management system to help foster a top-down, compliance and prevention-focused approach to Clean Water Act issues, EPA said.

Under the settlement, $2 million of the $4 million civil penalty will be paid to the U.S. The remaining $2 million will be divided between West Virginia and Kentucky based on the percentage of alleged violations in each state. The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

In January the EPA revoked Arch’s water permit for Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia, saying the mountaintop removal operation there would pollute water, harm wildlife and Appalachian communities in West Virginia.

Meanwhile the EPA is extending the reporting deadline for greenhouse gas emissions from thousands of companies, which had been set for March 31, to an unspecified date later this year

“To ensure that the requirements are practical and understandable to the thousands of companies already registered to report under the program, the agency is in the process of finalizing a user-friendly online electronic reporting platform,” the EPA said.

EPA said it plans to have the final information uploading platform available this summer, with the GHG data scheduled to be published later this year. “This extension will allow EPA to further test the system that facilities will use to submit data and give industry the opportunity to test the tool, provide feedback, and have sufficient time to become familiar with the tool prior to reporting,” the agency said.

Is the EPA caving in to intense and mounting political and budgetary pressure? Perhaps—we’ll see how hard the Obama administration will fight for its most activist agency.

Is the Arch penalty enough? Will Arch really follow through and change its ways? Again, we’ll see. The penalty is a hefty chunk of change but keep in mind that Arch posted net profits of nearly $159 million last year, a 278 percent increase over its 2009 profit.

Arch moved $3.2 billion worth of coal in 2010, so in the great scheme of all things Big Coal, Arch can probably live with this slap-on-the-wrist settlement.


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Written by William DiBenedetto

15 March, 2011 at 2:00 am

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