BRISTOL, Va. - It's the largest civil penalty of its kind. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requiring Alpha Natural Resources to pay $27.5 million for water contamination.
The U.S. will receive half of that amount, the other half will be divided among the three states who filed the complaint; West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
The EPA also said the Bristol, Va. based company will have to spend more than $200 million on waste water treatment systems and ways to reduce the amount of pollution getting into rivers and streams.
The settlement was reached after three years of talks.
We found out that Alpha allowed excessive amounts of pollutants to get into rivers and streams across five states including, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
The settlement deals with the last seven years, from 2006-2012. During that time period Alpha Natural Resources doubled in size and amassed more than 5,000 discharge points, according to company spokesperson Steve Higginbottom.
"Every discharge point, we have say a pipe going into a stream," said Higginbottom. "We have to have a permit for that."
The company had 6,289 permit limit violations at 794 different discharge points, according to the EPA. It was at the discharge points that the EPA claims Alpha released higher than allowed levels of pollutants like aluminum, iron, and selenium.
Higginbottom told us these elements can also get into the water through natural run-off from the mines.
"With the rain that we've had, the snow runoff we've had this year, it can occur when those naturally occurring elements are washed into or carried into a local body of water," he said.
Higginbottom told us that in 2013, they only exceeded the permit limits at about one percent of their total discharge points.
They're ready to move forward with the EPA to keep this from happening again, he said.
"We take this very seriously," said Higginbottom. "We're very supportive of the regulatory process."
Eric Chance, with the advocacy group Appalachian Voices, told us this is a step in the right direction.
"We're glad to see they're taking responsibility for their pollution," he said.
Chance told us the regulations are in place for a reason. One of the pollutants, selenium, can kill fish or cause them to be deformed, he said. Chance told us it also sets an industry standard.
"I think this sends a good message that the other coal companies need to mine responsibly and treat their pollution problems," said Chance.
He thinks this settlement also shows how tough it is for coal companies to follow the restrictions.
"I think they can treat for some of these things but not all of them, not all the time," said Chance.