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Coal Giant Slapped With Record Fine for Years of Toxic Water Pollution

Five Appalachian states see a bit of justice from years of their waterways being contaminated

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

A stream downhill from a mountaintop removal mine in Magoffin County, Kentucky. (Photo: Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices)

Coal giant Alpha Natural Resources Inc. has been hit with a record $27.5 million fine for violating water pollution permits thousands of times, discharging toxic contaminants into Appalachian waterways for years, the Associated Press is reporting.

The fine marks the largest ever under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act.

According to details of the settlement filed in federal court Wednesday, Alpha and its subsidiaries must also spend $200 million on upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from their coal operations in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Between 2006 and 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the companies violated Clean Water Act permit limits at nearly 800 discharge points, totaling 6,289 violations and polluting rivers and streams across the five states.

As ThinkProgress points out, "A big part of the reason this settlement was so comprehensive and expensive is because in 2011, Alpha Natural Resources bought a coal company called Massey Energy. Massey’s coal operations account for more than half of the violations represented in Wednesday’s settlement."

"The unprecedented size of the civil penalty in this settlement sends a strong deterrent message to others in this industry that such egregious violations of the nation's Clean Water Act will not be tolerated,” stated Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

"Today’s agreement is good news for communities across Appalachia, who have too often been vulnerable to polluters who disregard the law. It holds Alpha accountable and will bring increased compliance and transparency among Alpha and its many subsidiaries," Dreher stated.

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