EDITOR’S NOTE: The story has been updated with a statement from Consol Energy.
Consol Energy was fined $3 million for violating the federal Clean Water Act for discharging contaminated mine wastewater from its Bailey Mine Complex in Washington and Greene counties into tributaries of the Ohio River.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice announced the civil penalty Thursday afternoon that also mandates the implementation of “extensive water management and monitoring activities” to prevent future discharge from entering the waterways.
The consent agreement between the federal agencies and Consol was filed Thursday in federal court in Pittsburgh.
According to the settlement, the discharge regularly exceeded osmotic pressure, a standard to protect marine life from excessive amounts of total dissolved solids, which can increase water salinity.
Between January 2006 and June 2015, the complex exceeded its effluent limits at least 188 times for its daily effluent limitations and at least 170 times for its monthly effluent limitations, according to the complaint.
In regard to the osmotic pressure effluent limits, the complex at the request of the state Department of Environmental Protection, implemented a plan in which it pumped contaminated water into a slurry impoundment to store and prevent unlawful discharges.
Because of limited storage capacity in the impoundment, however, additional measures may have to be taken to avoid a discharge, the complaint said.
As part of the agreement, Consol must prevent the discharge of total dissolved solids from the complex, conduct long-term monitoring to ensure there is enough storage capacity to prevent future discharges, develop a contingency plan if problems persist and implement an environmental management system to comply with the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations.
The EPA is estimating those changes at the Bailey operation will eliminate more than 2.5 million pounds of TDS pollutants from entering the tributaries.
“Mining operations that discharge to our rivers, lakes and streams have an obligation to comply with our nation’s laws that protect those water bodies, as well as public health,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said in a written statement. “The actions required by today’s settlement represent a major step forward in protecting local waterways and the health of communities.”
The company said it installed a “closed-loop system” on the surface impoundments at the Bailey preparation plant as part of the project.
“We took these proactive measures because we are committed to being a good neighbor in the communities where we live and work,” Consol said in a statement issued Friday morning. “This settlement reflects a cooperative effort with state and federal agencies, and recognizes the work done by Consol to achieve and maintain compliance.”
Consol agreed to maintain certain water management measures to prevent discharges, monitor to ensure adequate storage capacity to prevent future discharges and submit a plan for advanced treatment in the event it exhausts its mine wastewater storage capacity. It must report its findings to the EPA quarterly and annually. The Bailey complex includes Bailey Mine, Harvey Mine and Enlow Fork Mine.
“Consol has agreed to improve their facilities to prevent future discharges, and the actions (Thursday) will go a long way towards ensuring Pennsylvania’s waters are protected,” acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said.
The consent agreement, which can be viewed online at www.justice.gov/enrd, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.