Between January 2000 and March 2006, self-reported violations, included in reports Massey filed with regulators, amounted to 60,500 days of violations, or about 28 violations per day, according to court records.
Last year, several West Virginia environmental groups tried to intervene in the government lawsuit. As of Thursday, Copenhaver had not yet ruled on their requests.
Those environmental groups were quick to point out Thursday that the thousands of violations outlined in the federal lawsuit had never been cited or punished by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
"If the state had brought this action, this money would be going into state coffers instead of to the federal government," said Joe Lovett, a lawyer for the citizen groups. "DEP has the primary responsibility for enforcing the Clean Water Act permitting program, and this should have been something the DEP and the Manchin administration did, instead of allowing the federal government to do it."
But during most of the period covered by the EPA suit, state officials had stopped reviewing coal company pollution discharge reports, a problem DEP mining director Randy Huffman said has been corrected.
EPA officials said the $20 million civil penalty being paid by Massey is the third largest Clean Water Act fine in history. Two other cases settled for more than $30 million, but both involved pipeline company spills and not permit violations like the Massey case.
One coal industry analyst previously cited by The Associated Press estimated Massey's potential fines at more than $2.4 billion.
EPA officials never provided a concrete estimate. Massey in November told shareholders that it believed the company's exposure was between $1.5 million and $7 million.
Massey President Don Blankenship had previously said the EPA suit overstated the number and severity of the violations. In court, company lawyers sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that most of the streams affected did not really fall under Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
In a statement Thursday, Massey Executive Vice President Baxter Phillips noted the $20 million settlement "is higher than the company's initial estimate, but far lower than the published estimates of some equity analysts and media sources unfamiliar with the manner in which Clean Water Act penalties are calculated."
Massey said it has already established a $5 million reserve for the lawsuit. An additional $15 million will be reflected on the company's fourth quarter 2007 results, Massey said. The settlement amount is not deductible for tax purposes, Massey said.
"When we factored in the uncertainties of litigation and the absorption of management time on the matter, we concluded that the shareholders would be best served by a timely settlement that eliminated any continuing concern caused by the estimates of some sources regarding our potential exposure," Phillips said.
Phillips said that under the settlement, Massey would be "setting a new standard for environmental compliance in the coal industry."
As part of the deal, Massey agreed to perform 20 water quality improvement projects along 25 miles of the Little Coal River, and to set aside 200 acres of riverfront property as protected from development.
The water quality improvement projects were designed two years ago as part of a previous settlement with the state DEP, but the DEP settlement did not require Massey to actually complete any of the projects.
Massey said it has asked the Coal River Group, a local conservation organization, to help it monitor the 200 acres being protected by new easements.
"We are excited about the opportunity to increase the amount of land protected by conservation easements as part of our efforts," said Bill Currey, president of the Coal River Group.