Black Beauty Coal, EPA Reach Settlement

After being accused of working without proper permits in two Midwestern states, Black Beauty Coal Co. agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and create a forested wetland in Indiana to improve water quality.

Black Beauty Coal's parent company, Peabody Energy, agreed to the penalties but claimed that the mining operation’s actions were "mischaracterized" and that the company had been caught unaware by retroactive permit changes.

According to EPA, Evansville, Ind.-based Black Beauty Coal Co. and its subsidiary, Arclar Co. of Equality, Ill., filled in streams and wetlands without a permit while mining in Indiana and Illinois. EPA alleged that over the last several years, the companies’ operations adversely affected ditches, streams, creeks and wetlands near the mines.

Seventeen acres of wetlands were affected at the Indiana sites, and about 164,179 linear feet of streams were affected at all three sites in Illinois and Indiana, EPA said. The companies did not have the required permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to place fill material in the waterways.

Black Beauty Coal and Arclar were ordered to pay a fine of $75,000. In addition, Black Beauty Coal agreed to spend $292,344 to create a forested wetland near its Farmersburg mine in Indiana. The company will create 36.3 acres of forested wetland and 5.5 acres of forested buffer around the perimeter of the wetland.

"In order to reduce its penalty, Black Beauty Coal has agreed to carry out a supplemental project to benefit the environment," said Bharat Mathur, acting regional administrator for EPA Region 5. "It will create a forested wetland that will improve water quality by reducing soil erosion, filtering pollutants and providing habitat for animals and aquatic life."

Black Beauty Coal will complete the planning, design, tillage and tree planting by Oct. 31, 2010. The company will monitor the wetland for an additional 7 years and place the entire property into a perpetual conservation easement held by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Peabody Energy Responds

In a written statement sent to OccupationalHazards.com, Peabody Energy spokesperson Beth Sutton described the settlement as an “administrative action” and said the matter “is being mischaracterized.” According to Sutton, permitted mining activities already were underway when additional permitting requirements were added.

“The rulebook was essentially changed in the middle of the game,” she said.

She explained that the potentially affected areas “already have been or will be restored based on our existing reclamation plans.”

Sutton also pointed to Peabody’s long-standing leadership in reclamation practices at the targeted locations. These practices, she said, received the Department of the Interior’s highest honors through multiple good neighbor and reclamation excellence awards for best practices as recently as this past year.

“Our actions were appropriate at all times, and we diligently followed guidance in addressing after-the-fact permitting obligations. We further believe that enforcement by [EPA] was not warranted,” her statement read.

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