US mountain-top removal prompts legal actionPublished by MAC on 2011-03-14
Source: ENS, Reuters, Charleston Gazette
Arch gets fined millions; Massey is being sued
Arch Coal, the second largest US practitioner of "mountain top removal" has been fined a significant US$4 million for numerous violations of the country's Clean Water Act.
This came just a week after the company appointed a former governor of the coal-rich state of Wyoming to serve on its board as an "environmental watchdog".
Meanwhile the families of two workers, employed by Massey Energy - the country's worst mountain-top "destroyer"- is suing that company for "wrongful" death.
Joe Marcum and Adam Morgan died last year in the worst mining disaster on US soil for a quarter of a century. See: Appalachian Coal: An Insult to Their Memory
Arch Coal Fined $4 Million for Polluting Appalachian Streams
Environment News Service (ENS)
4 March 2011
WASHINGTON, DC - Arch Coal Inc., the second largest producer of coal in the United States, has agreed to pay a $4 million dollar penalty for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
A joint federal-state complaint filed in U.S. District Court in West Virginia by the United States, West Virginia, and Kentucky alleged numerous violations of Arch Coal's permits that set limits on pollutants to be discharged into streams.
Deficient operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment systems at four Arch Coal mining facilities: Coal Mac, Inc; Lone Mountain Processing, Inc; Cumberland River Coal Co.; and Mingo Logan Coal Co., allowed excess discharges of iron, total suspended solids, manganese and other pollutants, the complaint alleged.
Under the settlement, Arch Coal will implement changes to its mining operations in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday.
"Violations at mining operations can have significant environmental and public health consequences, including the pollution of the waters that people use for drinking, swimming and fishing," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
"It is critical that companies operating next door to homes, schools and other businesses meet the standards established to protect the health and the environment for these communities," said Giles.
As part of the settlement, Arch Coal has agreed to take measures that will prevent an estimated two million pounds of pollution from entering the nation's waters each year.
Mining discharges impair streams and watersheds. These impairments include high levels dissolved solids, and sulfates, which have detrimental impacts to aquatic life, according to the EPA.
Sediment-laden runoff can result in increased turbidity and decreased oxygen in receiving waters, which in turn can result in loss of in-stream habitat for fish and other aquatic species. Sediment can kill fish directly, destroy spawning beds, suffocate fish eggs and bottom dwelling organisms, and block sunlight resulting in reduced growth of beneficial aquatic grasses.
Arch will be required to implement a treatment system to reduce discharges of selenium, a pollutant found in mine discharges. Selenium runoff from mining operations can build up in streams and have an adverse impact on aquatic organisms.
Arch Coal has agreed to implement a series of inspections, audits and tracking measures to ensure treatment systems are working properly and that future compliance is achieved.
The company is also 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.
"The measures required by this settlement will prevent pollutants from entering waterways and bring wide-ranging improvements to mining operations in four mining complexes across three states," said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. "These changes will mean a healthier environment for local communities and will help ensure Arch Coal's compliance with the Clean Water Act."
Under the settlement, $2 million of the $4 million civil penalty will be paid to the United States and the remaining $2 million will be divided between West Virginia, $1.84 million, and Kentucky, $160,000, based on the percentage of alleged violations in each state.
Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Arch Coal contributes about 16 percent of America's coal supply from 11 mining complexes in Colorado, Kentucky, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, with more than 160 million tons of coal sales in 2010.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
Arch Coal Elects Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal to Board of Directors
Arch Coal press release
23 February 2011
ST. LOUIS - Arch Coal, Inc. today announced former Wyoming Governor David D. Freudenthal, 60, has been elected to its board of directors effective immediately. Freudenthal will serve on the board's audit and energy and environmental policy committees.
"We are extremely pleased that Gov. Freudenthal has agreed to join our board of directors," said Steven F. Leer, Arch's chairman and CEO. "In addition to his obvious leadership skills and public policy expertise, the Governor has great business acumen and a deep understanding of our industry. He will be an excellent addition to our board, and I look forward to his advice and counsel in the years ahead."
Freudenthal has nearly 25 years of public service experience, most recently serving two terms as the governor of Wyoming. Formerly he served as the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming for more than six years. During his tenure in private practice, Freudenthal specialized in providing strategic legal counsel in the areas of natural resources, environmental and business law. He started his career as an economist in Wyoming's Department of Economic Planning and Development.
Freudenthal received a bachelor's degree in economics from Amherst College and a juris doctor degree from the College of Law at the University of Wyoming.
Freudenthal currently serves as a guest lecturer at the University of Wyoming. He previously served as chairman of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and as a director of the Wyoming Community Foundation Board. He also is the founding director of the Wyoming Student Loan Corporation.
U.S.-based Arch Coal is one of the world's largest and most efficient coal producers, with more than 160 million tons of coal sales in 2010. Arch's national network of mines supplies cleaner-burning, low-sulfur coal to customers on four continents, including U.S. and international power producers and steel manufacturers. A full list of the Arch Coal board of directors and their committee assignments is available in the corporate governance area of http://investor.archcoal.com/
Arch Coal to pay $4 million in water fines
By Ken Ward Jr.
The Charleston Gazette
1 March 2011
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Arch Coal Inc. has agreed to pay $4 million in fines to resolve water pollution violations that date back eight years at its coal-mining operations across Central Appalachia, federal officials announced Tuesday.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials and the federal Department of Justice announced the settlement after filing a copy of it -- along with the lawsuit it was proposed to resolve -- in federal court.
The proposed settlement covers water pollution violations at Arch's Mountain Laurel and Coal-Mac operations in Logan County, and the company's Lone Mountain Complex in Kentucky and its Cumberland River operations in Virginia.
Federal regulators alleged more than 800 violations of pollution limits for manganese, total suspended solids, pH, iron, aluminum and selenium, according to records filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
"Violations at mining operations can have significant environmental and public health consequences, including the pollution of the waters that people use for drinking, swimming and fishing," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "It is critical that companies operating next door to homes, schools and other businesses meet the standards established to protect the health and the environment for these communities."
EPA said that Arch Coal has agreed to "take measures that will prevent an estimated 2 million pounds of pollution from entering the nation's waters each year. The company has agreed to a series of inspections, audits, and tracking measures "to ensure treatment systems are working properly and that future compliance is achieved."
"These changes will mean a healthier environment for local communities and will help ensure Arch Coal's compliance with the Clean Water Act," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general of the DOJ's environment and natural resources division.
Under the settlement, St. Louis-based Arch Coal would also implement a treatment system to reduce discharges of toxic selenium. That part of the deal covers just one water pollution outlet at Arch's Coal-Mac operations.
Already, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other groups are in federal court seeking an order that Arch Coal stop violating its water pollution limits for selenium at that outlet. The citizen groups alleged more than 400 violations since December 2008.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has not yet decided the case, but in a separate case against Patriot Coal, Chambers ordered the company to install a "fluidized bed reactor" -- using biological treatment in which bugs basically eat the selenium -- to treat three of its water discharges.
Under its deal with EPA, Arch Coal could end up having to install that technology as well. But the deal gives the company 10 months to try a pilot project using a different proposed treatment system.
Under the settlement, $2 million of the $4 million civil penalty will be paid to the federal government, with the remaining $2 million divided between West Virginia and Kentucky, where regulators joined EPA in filing the case.
The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and needs approval from a federal judge to become final.
Massey faces wrongful death suit over Upper Big Branch blast
The families of two of the coal miners killed in the blast at the Upper Big Branch mine last year have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the mine's owner saying it was a "catastrophe waiting to happen".
By Steve James
9 March 2011
NEW YORK -The families of two coal miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine blast last year filed wrongful death lawsuits against the mine's owner, Massey Energy Co, saying it was a "catastrophe waiting to happen,"
The suits come a week after Massey's head of security at the West Virginia mine was charged with impeding investigators probing the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners in the worst U.S. mine accident in four decades.
According to the suits, the families of Joe Marcum and Adam Morgan, who died in the explosion, are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as a result of "the willful, wanton and recklessly unsafe manner" in which Massey operated the mine.
The complaints allege Massey had "an abysmal safety record" and the number of federal safety violations more than doubled between 2008 and 2009 -- something then-Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship was aware of.
Lawyer Tim Bailey said the suits were filed in the circuit court in Boone County, West Virginia, after preliminary investigations of the blast "gave us enough information to conclude the location, source and cause of the ignition."
Bailey told Reuters on Tuesday he filed a third suit on behalf of Stanley Stewart, a miner who survived the explosion.
The final report by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is not expected until year's end, but preliminary findings suggest the mine was not properly treated with crushed limestone to control buildup of explosive coal dust.
The suits also note preliminary findings that water spray nozzles on mining equipment were not operating properly to prevent sparks and reduce coal dust.
Two separate suits were filed soon after the blast and Massey says it reached settlements with seven families of victims. Details have not been made public, but Massey said it offered $3 million to settle any claims against the company.
Massey had no immediate comment on the new lawsuits. A spokesman for Alpha Natural Resources Inc, which has agreed to acquire Massey, said the merger's closing was still expected in the middle of this year and was not affected by lawsuits.
"(But) Obviously we would like as much of it settled before the closing," he said.
The latest suits were filed against Massey and its subsidiary, Performance Coal, which operated Upper Big Branch, but not Massey's often outspoken former CEO Blankenship.
Bailey said it was not necessary to do so, since "he is a different sort of CEO -- much more hands-on." However, Blankenship is named in the complaint.
"Don Blankenship was actually aware of the unsafe manner in which the Upper Big Branch mine was operated as his involvement necessarily included his knowledge of the staggering number of safety violations issued by safety authorities," the complaint says.
"The intimate involvement by Don Blankenship in the activities at Upper Big Branch and his knowledge of the abysmal safety record of the mine reflect a gross negligent or reckless indifference to workplace safety."
The complaints note that prior to the explosion, the mine was cited by MSHA 38 times for mine ventilation violations and 37 times for unsafe accumulations of combustible materials (coal dust).
"With the number of mine safety violations which existed and had been allowed to exist ... the Upper Big Branch mine was a catastrophe waiting to happen," the suits say.
On Feb. 28, Hughie Stover, chief of security at the mine, was arrested and charged with impeding investigators by ordering the disposal of thousands of documents and of lying to investigators looking into allegations that it was a routine practice to alert miners when safety inspectors arrived.
Massey stock was up 2 cents at $64.27 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The suits are Tammy Morgan v Massey Energy Co, Massey Coal Services, Inc, Performance Coal Co. 11-c-47; Kathy Marcum v same defendants 11-c-46 and Stanley Stewart and Mindi Stewart v same defendants 11-c-48.
(Reporting by Steve James; editing by Derek Caney and Andre Grenon)