CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- CONSOL Energy Inc. will pay $5.5 million in fines and build a $200 million treatment system to resolve water quality violations federal regulators believe led to a massive fish kill along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border, officials announced Monday.
Pittsburgh-based CONSOL will also pay $500,000 to the state of West Virginia for "natural resource damages" to Dunkard Creek in Monongalia County, where all fish, mussels, salamanders and other aquatic life were killed in the fall of 2009.
West Virginia regulators and CONSOL blamed the fish kill on non-native algae, but federal investigators said coal company discharges that were extremely high in salts created conditions that allowed the algae growth.
The settlement, if approved by a federal judge, would require CONSOL to clean up pollution discharges that violated state standards for years prior to the fish kill -- and went uncorrected with the state Department of Environmental Protection's blessing.
CONSOL would complete and begin operating a "reverse osmosis" treatment plant so that discharges from four mining complexes in the area would meet state pollution limits for chlorides by May 30, 2013.
Federal and state officials joined CONSOL executives in praising the deal. The company called it a "groundbreaking Clean Water Act settlement" that would "set the highest standard for mine water treatment."
"This agreement advances stricter water quality standards that CONSOL, and soon others, must meet," said Katharine Fredriksen, CONSOL's senior vice president of environmental strategy and regulatory affairs. "However, the watershed approach is a first of its kind and we believe it is an example others should look to in meeting their environmental challenges."
In its corporate news release, CONSOL included a quote in which DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said, "Mining is critical to our state's economy, but clean water is paramount.
"This agreement supports both," Huffman said. "We appreciate having CONSOL as our environmental and economic partner in protecting our state's watersheds."