Two Alpha units settle lawsuits over coal mine discharges

The Paynter Branch Mining unit of Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) has worked out a consent decree with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to settle litigation over illegal mine water discharges from operations in Wyoming County.

The DEP is taking public comment on the consent decree until June 1. The agency had been accusing Paynter Branch Mning, through a case filed in the Circuit Court of Wyoming County, of violating West Virginia/National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits covering three surface mine areas in Wyoming County. The DEP said its review of reports filed by the company over the June 2007-March 2011 period showed violations of effluent limits at these operations. The agency noted that Paynter Branch Mining has previously entered into a consent decree about violations at one of these operations prior to December 2008.

“During the period prior to April 5, 2010, Paynter Branch installed a zero-valent iron-based pilot treatment system at Outlet 19 on WV/NPDES Permit No. WV1016440,” said the consent decree. “This ZVI treatment system showed promise in reducing selenium levels, but the system is not ready for full-scale implementation. Further, because of the remote locations of the outlets that have been assigned selenium limits, it is difficult to properly evaluate demonstration-scale tests at these sites. Therefore, Paynter Branch conducted additional selenium demonstration projects at an active mine located near Pax., W.Va., that is operated by an affiliate, Pioneer Fuel Corporation (‘Pioneer Fuel’), under WV/NPDES Permit No. WV1021664 (‘the Pax Location’).”

The companies thought the nearness of the Paynter Branch and Pioneer Coal projects would make results of the Pioneer Coal project applicable at Paynter Branch. It has in the meantime installed demonstration-scale facilities at the Paynter Branch location. Paynter Branch, through the state Environmental Quality Board and the Kanawha County Circuit Court, tried to get permit extensions so it could clean up these problems without penalties.

Under the consent decree, the company has agreed to continue with its demonstration-scale facilities at the Paynter Branch site, to deadlines for installation of full-scale control equipment under two water permits at Paynter Branch, to come into compliance under these two permits in October 2012 and January 2013, and to pay a civil penalty of $169,500.

Also, the DEP is taking public comment until May 31 on a separate consent decree with Pioneer Fuel that settles a DEP lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County. This covers effluent violations at two surface mines and related facilities in Raleigh County, also for the period June 2007-March 2011. Again, there was a regulatory battle about compliance deadlines.

In this consent decree, Pioneer Fuel has agreed to continue with demonstration-scale tests, to install full-scale systems by deadlines and will come into compliance at one site in August 2012 and at another in January 2013. It will pay a civil penalty of $379,600.

Alpha said about this matter in its Feb. 29 annual Form 10-K report: “The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has brought civil enforcement actions against three of the Company’s subsidiaries, Riverside Energy Company, LLC, Paynter Branch Mining, Inc. and Pioneer Fuel Corporation, in various West Virginia state courts seeking civil penalties based on alleged discharge of selenium, and in one case, other additional materials, in excess of permitted levels. In October 2011, Riverside Energy Company, LLC reached a tentative agreement with the plaintiffs to settle the dispute, and in December 2011, the Court approved the final settlement. Riverside has made all the civil penalty payments called for under the agreement, and the Company believes that the terms of the settlement will not result in any material impact on its results of operations. The suits against Paynter Branch Mining, Inc. and Pioneer Fuel Corporation remain ongoing. The Company does not believe that the amounts of any civil penalties fines resulting from the Paynter Branch Mining, Inc. and Pioneer Fuel Corporation cases will be material to its results of operations.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.