Enforcement

Consol Energy Clean Water Act Settlement

(Washington, DC - March 14, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Justice, and state of West Virginia announced today that Consol Energy Inc., the largest producer of coal from underground mines in the United States, has agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty for Clean Water Act violations at six of its mines in West Virginia. In addition to the penalty, Consol will spend an estimated $200 million in pollution controls that will reduce discharges of harmful mining wastewater into Appalachian streams and rivers.

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Overview of Facility

Consol Energy, Inc. is the largest producer of coal from underground mines in the United States. In 2009, Consol produced approximately 59 million tons of coal, accounting for approximately 13 percent of the total tons produced in the eastern United States. Consol operates mines throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia, and Virginia.

The Consent Decree in this matter, resolves an enforcement action against Consol for Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at six of the company's underground mines in the Monongahela River Basin and the Ohio River Basin in West Virginia.

The Monongahela River Basin mines include:

  • Blacksville 2
  • Loveridge
  • Robinson Run
  • Four States

The Ohio River Basin mines include:

  • Windsor
  • Shoemaker

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Violations

Between June 2007 and September 2008, Consol discharged mining wastewater containing chloride in excess of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit limits, in violation of Sections 301 and 402 of the CWA. Specifically, Consol violated the daily maximum limitation for chloride on at least 289 occasions and the monthly average limitation for chloride on approximately 178 occasions.

In addition, from May 2009 through November 2009, Consol violated the narrative water quality standards incorporated into its NPDES permits, which prohibit significant adverse impacts to the chemical, physical, hydrologic, and biological components of the aquatic ecosystem. Consol discharged chloride and total dissolved solids (TDS) at levels that contributed to exceedences of the in-stream conditions necessary to ensure the protection of aquatic life.

The complaint in this matter alleges that discharges of high amounts of chloride and TDS from Consol's Blacksville 2 and Loveridge mining operations in the Monongahela River Basin contributed to severe impairment of aquatic life and conditions favorable for golden algae to thrive in Dunkard Creek. In September 2009, a species of golden algae bloomed in Dunkard Creek, killing thousands of fish, mussels and amphibians.

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Injunctive Relief

Consol will spend approximately $200 million implementing the injunctive relief set forth in the Consent Decree. Consol will construct a centralized wastewater treatment plant that includes pretreatment, ultra-filtration, reverse osmosis, evaporation, and crystallization technologies.

Consol will direct the wastewater discharges from four of its mines in the Monongahela River Basin to this wastewater treatment plant. The treatment system, with a capacity to treat 3,500 gallons of water per minute, will remove approximately 99 percent of the chloride, TDS, and other metals contained in the company's wastewater discharges.

Consol will begin operating the treatment plant by May 30, 2013. In addition, Consol will relocate the wastewater discharges from two of its mines in the Ohio River Basin, currently discharging into sensitive headwater streams, to the Ohio River, where the discharges will comply with applicable permit limits.

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Pollutant Reductions

Consol's operation of the centralized reverse osmosis wastewater treatment plant will eliminate over 96 million pounds per year of TDS, as well as 12 million pounds per year of chloride, currently discharged in the wastewater from Consol's mining activities into the Monongahela River Basin.

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Health and Environmental Effects

Wastewater discharges from underground mining operations have significant human health and environmental consequences. High levels of chloride and TDS can cause detrimental impacts to aquatic life, as well as carry toxic chemicals that impact drinking water. Chloride and TDS may create conditions favorable to algal blooms, which decreases dissolved oxygen in receiving waters and can result in the suffocation of fish and other aquatic organisms, the reduction of beneficial aquatic plant growth, and the loss of in-stream habitats.

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Civil Penalty

Consol will pay a civil penalty of $5.5 million within 30 days of the effective date of the settlement.

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State Partner

West Virginia joined the United States in the lawsuit and is party to the settlement. The United States and West Virginia will each receive $2.25 million of the total civil penalty.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Amanda J. Helwig
U.S. EPA
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-3713
Amanda Helwig (helwig.amanda@epa.gov)

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