CORE, W.Va. -- Consol Energy will pay a $5.5 million civil penalty to settle hundreds of federal Clean Water Act violations at six of its mines in West Virginia over the past four years, including pollution discharges that contributed to a massive fish kill in 30 miles of Dunkard Creek in the fall of 2009.
Under terms of the agreement, announced Monday at a news conference along a green and springtime-full Dunkard Creek, Consol also will spend $200 million to construct a massive, high-tech mine drainage treatment facility near Mannington, W.Va., by May 2013, that will handle wastewater from multiple mines.
"We are committed to cleaning up the waters of Dunkard Creek and the Monongahela watershed and holding those who pollute it accountable," said Shawn Garvin, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator. "The centerpiece of this settlement -- a new advanced wastewater treatment plant -- will substantially reduce pollution by keeping nearly 100 million pounds of total dissolved solids, including chloride, from reaching these waterways each year."
The federal complaint alleges chronic violations of discharge permit limits at Consol's Blacksville No. 2, Loveridge, Robinson Run and Four States mines in the Monongahela River drainage and at the Shoemaker and Windsor mines, which discharge into tributaries of the Ohio River.
"In this settlement, Consol takes responsibility for its past failures to abide by the terms of its Clean Water Act permits," said Ignacia Moreno, of the Department of Justice's environment and natural resources division of the Department of Justice.
Half of the $5.5 million penalty payment will go to the U.S. Department of Justice and half to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
As is standard procedure in such agreements, Consol did not admit any liability. It issued a lengthy news release touting its economic importance to West Virginia and its environmental record. Consol President Nick Deluliis, quoted in the release, said the agreement "represents a concrete, proactive demonstration of that commitment."
Katharine Fredriksen, Consol vice president for environmental strategy and regulatory affairs, said 33 miles of pipe will be laid to connect the Mannington treatment plant to the Blacksville No. 2, Loverage, Robinson Run and Four States mines.
It will be the first mine water treatment facility in the U.S. to use reverse osmosis, a treatment method typically used to remove salts and dissolved solids in the treatment of drinking water, Ms. Fredriksen said.
In a separate agreement to settle state charges related to the fish kill on Dunkard Creek, Consol agreed to pay $500,000 to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, said Scott Mandirola, water and waste management division director for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
That settlement will be used, at least in part, to help restore Dunkard Creek, which runs along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.
A combination of low stream flow and high concentrations of chloride and total dissolved solids in the discharge from Consol's Blacksville No. 2 mine produced brackish water conditions that produced a bloom of toxic golden algae, an invasive species. Killed during the monthlong event were 15,000 to 22,000 large game fish, plus large salamanders and 14 species of freshwater mussels, some already ecologically threatened.
Betty Wiley, a leader of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association, said she was generally pleased with the federal settlement and hoped the state settlement will eventually bring back aquatic life and the thriving sport fishery to Dunkard Creek.
"The only thing that will help this creek is time and having good water," Ms. Wiley said. "With good water it will gradually rebound. It would have been better if the DNR settlement pinpointed that the $500,000 be spent on Dunkard because this is where it all happened."
The settlement with Consol is the fourth major financial penalty settlement with the coal industry by the Department of Justice for alleged environmental violations in the past three years. Previously, the department settled cases with Arch Coal, Patriot Coal and Massey Coal Co.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.