Friday, January 18, 2008

$30 million settlement: Is the EPA cracking down on coal?

A New York Times article published yesterday toted news of the EPA's largest civil penalty settlement in history. The $30 million fine was a response to more than 4,500 water pollution limit violations between January 2000 and December 2006 by Massey Energy Co, the nation's fourth largest coal producer. From this fine, $20 million was in civil penalties and $10 million was directed toward investments in pollution control improvements at Massey company mines and coal facilities.

The government alleged that Massey “polluted and clogged hundreds of streams and rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia” through the release of metals, sediments and mine drainage into these waterways.

This settlement comes after a $76.3 million judgment against Massey Energy Co. in favor of another coal company last fall. In March 2007 Massey was fined $1.5 million by the federal Mine Safety and Health administration in response to the death of two miners in a mine fire. Massey is currently under criminal investigation for these deaths.

Recent publications including Coal River by Michael Shnayerson and Big Coal by Jedd Goodell (subject of discussion on NPR last summer) make one wonder if we've finally reached the tipping point on this issue.

Is the EPA cracking down historically prevalent environmental policy violations in the energy world? Is this the start of a trend that will work its way through the US coal industry?

Or, is this just a slap on the wrist after thousands of instances of disregard for environmental and employee safety regulations due to current political and social pressure, soon to be forgotten?

1 comment:

PiersW. said...

Massey Coal, despite being one of the larger coal companies in the United States (~5th largest), has a longstanding reputation (within the coal industry especially) for being an irresponsible operator. Their approach is frequently viewed as reckless and carefree, particularly towards safety and the environment where they regularly cut corners and 'take their chances' with fines and inspectors.

A lot of the coal industry dissapproves of Massey's approach and was supportive of the levied fines against them (even thought the actual settlement was significantly less).

It could be agued that Massey is the exception rather than the rule in the coal industry.