WASHINGTON (CN) - Southern Coal Corporation and 26 affiliated mining companies will pay $900,00 in fines and create a $4.5 million standby trust for pumping millions of gallons of polluted wastewater into Appalachian waterways over a seven-year period.
Under the terms of a Sept. 30 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the companies will also make comprehensive upgrades to their coal mining and processing operations to prevent future discharges.
The $4.5 million standby trust and associated letter of credit are intended to guarantee that there is sufficient funding to ensure the companies complete the remediation work they promised to perform and for them to state in compliance with the Clean Water Act.
The $900,000 civil penalty will be divided among the federal government and the four state co-plaintiffs: Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
As described in a complaint filed in the federal court in Virginia the same day the settlement was announced, the companies were accused of dumping polluted wastewater in streams and other waters bodies for seven years beginning in 2009.
In addition, they allegedly ignored their legal obligations to sample the quality of their discharges to rivers and streams, and in some cases failed to respond to multiple information requests from EPA compliance officers.
Southern Coal Corporation operates 33 mines, produces 7.2 million tons of coal annually, and is owned by West Virginia businessman Jim Justice.
Justice, who also owns The Greenbrier, an iconic 10,000 resort in West Virginia, is currently in the final lap of his run for governor of the Mountain State.
A pollutant, as defined in the Clean Water Act, can include a wide variety of habitat destroying substances including fuel runoff, sewage, garbage, munitions, radioactive materials and discarded equipment.
The government complaint said that over the last five years, Southern Coal Corporation mining and processing operations allegedly violated discharge limits for pollutants including iron, total suspended solids, aluminum, pH and manganese in their state-issued permits
The Justice Department said Friday that a centralized data management system will be established to track the companies' waste violations, water sampling data and other compliance efforts.
Notices of violations will also be posted online to allow the public to monitor the future compliance of the mining firms with federal and state regulations.
The government is also requiring the companies to submit to third-party environmental audits, and that all of their compliance staff undergo additional training.
Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to phone calls requesting comment.