Martin County Coal was expecting to pay $55,000 in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor for a spill in 2000. A mine waste pond leaked millions of gallons of coal sludge into eastern Kentucky and West Virginia waterways and contaminated water supplies for 30 miles.
Administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in Washington, Irwin Schroeder, cut the fine to $5,500, reports The Associated Press.
The federal government's fine doesn't include a multimillion dollar penalty Martin County Coal agreed to pay to the state in 2002.
The Department of Labor, which recommended the $55,000 fine, said in a citation that Martin County Coal failed to respond to signs that flow from the waste pond, or impoundment, had increased over time. Schroeder said that mining engineers monitoring the impoundment should have taken note of long term changes in the flow.
"Much more could have and should have been done here," Schroeder wrote in the ruling. But "I am not persuaded that the failure to take advantage of these opportunities (amounted to) wanton or reckless disregard for the risks to life and property."
Since the spill Martin County Coal has paid several fines. In August 2002, the company agreed to pay $3.25 million in penalties and damages to the state of Kentucky and a $225,000 fine by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. In December 2002, the company reached a private settlement with a group of residents who claimed their property was damaged in the spill.