U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials and the federal Department of Justice announced the settlement after filing a copy of it -- along with the lawsuit it was proposed to resolve -- in federal court.
The proposed settlement covers water pollution violations at Arch's Mountain Laurel and Coal-Mac operations in Logan County, and the company's Lone Mountain Complex in Kentucky and its Cumberland River operations in Virginia.
Federal regulators alleged more than 800 violations of pollution limits for manganese, total suspended solids, pH, iron, aluminum and selenium, according to records filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
"Violations at mining operations can have significant environmental and public health consequences, including the pollution of the waters that people use for drinking, swimming and fishing," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "It is critical that companies operating next door to homes, schools and other businesses meet the standards established to protect the health and the environment for these communities."
EPA said that Arch Coal has agreed to "take measures that will prevent an estimated 2 million pounds of pollution from entering the nation's waters each year. The company has agreed to a series of inspections, audits, and tracking measures "to ensure treatment systems are working properly and that future compliance is achieved."
"These changes will mean a healthier environment for local communities and will help ensure Arch Coal's compliance with the Clean Water Act," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general of the DOJ's environment and natural resources division.
Under the settlement, St. Louis-based Arch Coal would also implement a treatment system to reduce discharges of toxic selenium. That part of the deal covers just one water pollution outlet at Arch's Coal-Mac operations.
Already, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other groups are in federal court seeking an order that Arch Coal stop violating its water pollution limits for selenium at that outlet. The citizen groups alleged more than 400 violations since December 2008.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has not yet decided the case, but in a separate case against Patriot Coal, Chambers ordered the company to install a "fluidized bed reactor" -- using biological treatment in which bugs basically eat the selenium -- to treat three of its water discharges.
Under its deal with EPA, Arch Coal could end up having to install that technology as well. But the deal gives the company 10 months to try a pilot project using a different proposed treatment system.
Under the settlement, $2 million of the $4 million civil penalty will be paid to the federal government, with the remaining $2 million divided between West Virginia and Kentucky, where regulators joined EPA in filing the case.
The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and needs approval from a federal judge to become final.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.