Patriot Coal Corporation, one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States, has agreed to pay a $6.5 million civil penalty to settle violations of the Clean Water Act, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the state of West Virginia announced last week.
The settlement includes the third largest penalty ever paid in a federal Clean Water Act case for discharge permit violations. In addition, Patriot has agreed to extensive measures designed to ensure Clean Water Act compliance at its mines in West Virginia. The consent decree includes innovative and heightened operating standards which should serve as a model for the coal mining industry in Central Appalachia.
In a joint complaint filed concurrently with the consent decree, the United States and the State of West Virginia alleged that Patriot violated its Clean Water Act permits more than 1,400 times — representing over 22,000 days of violations between January 2003 and December 2007 at its mining complexes in West Virginia. During this time, Patriot and its subsidiaries allegedly discharged excess amounts of metals, sediment, and other pollutants into dozens of rivers and streams in West Virginia. Excess discharges of these pollutants can significantly harm water quality and aquatic life in West Virginia’s streams.
As part of the settlement, Patriot has agreed to implement extensive measures to prevent future violations and to perform environmental projects, at a total estimated cost of $6 million. Specifically, Patriot will develop and implement a company-wide compliance-focused environmental management system including creating a database to track information relevant to compliance efforts; conduct regular internal and third-party environmental compliance audits; implement a system of tiered response actions for any possible future violations; and conduct annual training for all employees and contractors with environmental responsibilities. The company will also perform five stream restoration projects in local watersheds and perform assessments of mining impacts on aquatic life.
With corporate headquarters in St. Louis, Patriot owns and operates 16 mining complexes in West Virginia and Kentucky. The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice Web site at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html