Fine Coal Company for Its Toxic Legacy

water pollution

Target: Robert G. Dreher, acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

Goal: Applaud the decision to fine a major coal producer millions of dollars for its thousands of permit violations

For years, coal giant Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and its subsidiaries polluted streams and rivers with impunity. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documented thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act, impacting health and water quality for communities across five Appalachian states. In a landmark judgement, Alpha was recently fined $27.5 million for its illegal dumping. The company was also ordered to fund roughly $200 million in upgrades to minimize future impacts of its coal operations, according to the Associated Press.

Robert G. Dreher, acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, commended the decision. “This settlement sends a strong deterrent message to others in this industry that such egregious violations of the nation’s Clean Water Act will not be tolerated,” he stated in an official press release, adding that the agreement “is good news for communities across Appalachia, who have too often been vulnerable to polluters who disregard the law.”

Praise regulators’ move to bring Alpha to justice, and for their renewed push to protect communities across the country from the hazards of coal production.


Dear Mr. Dreher,

With so many tragic chemical spills hitting the news in recent years, and the impact this has had on American communities, I am heartened to see an abhorrent polluter like Alpha Natural Resources Inc. finally held accountable for its crimes. Surely this is the duty of federal regulators like the EPA and the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Yet rarely do we see this duty upheld with such clarity.

This largest-ever judgement for violations of the Clean Water Act will help send a message to Alpha and others in the industry that flagrant law-breaking comes at a cost. Yet the New York Stock Exchange estimated the company to be worth some $13 billion after acquiring Massey Energy in 2011. Given this reality, levying fines against Alpha will do only so much to prevent further abuses. Ensuring that it follows through with mandates to reduce its illegal, toxic discharge into America’s waterways is equally important. And a timely enforcement of regulations must become the norm in order for the message to truly sink in.

I applaud all those in your department who support this recent judgement. Thank you for your efforts to reign in major polluters like Alpha Natural Resources Inc. May this herald a new chapter in environmental regulation.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Marc St. Gil via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

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