DOJ sues West Virginia’s Jim Justice over EPA fines

On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice sued Republican West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s family coal empire in federal court for millions of dollars in penalties, fees and unpaid interest for dozens of violations of the law.

The two-term governor – who is seeking the seat of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) in next year’s election – is not named in the civil suit, but his son, James “Jay” is. Justice III, is, as owner or operator of the 13 defendant companies.

Policy noted that “although the prosecution does not name the senior judge, he has already come under scrutiny for unpaid fines as well as reports that he still maintains a firm grip on the family business.”

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement that “our environmental laws serve to protect communities from the harmful effects of industrial activities, including surface coal mining operations”.

“Through this lawsuit, the Department of Justice seeks accountability for the defendants’ repeated violations of the law and to recover any penalties they owe as a result of those violations,” Kim added.

The department’s complaint accuses the 13 coal companies of violating their legal obligations under the Surface Mines Control and Reclamation Act (“SMCRA”), or permits issued under the act, and of not having “paid undisputed fines imposed for their undisputed violations”.

“The defendants were cited for more than 130 violations and have not paid more than $5 million in civil penalties imposed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (“OSMRE”),” the filing said. “In addition, certain defendants also collectively owe, and have not paid, over $190,000 in Abandoned Mining Lands (“AML”) reclamation cost debts.”

When interest, late penalties and administrative fees are included, the defendants owe about $7.6 million, according to the Justice Department, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of “OSMRE,” a branch of the Ministry of the Interior.

“Over a five-year period, the defendants engaged in more than 130 violations of federal law, thereby posing risks to the health and safety of the public and the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia.

“After being warned, they failed to remedy these violations and were ordered more than 50 times to cease mining activities until their violations were mitigated,” Kavanaugh explained. “Today’s filing of this complaint continues the process of holding the defendants accountable for the health and safety of the public and our environment.”

Justice took office as a Democrat in January 2017 and later that year, at a rally with then-Republican President Donald Trump, announced he was returning to the GOP. His online biography boasts of various business ventures, stating that after his father’s death, “Jim initiated a massive expansion of several businesses which included a significant expansion of coal reserves, Christmas tree farms, cotton gins, turf operations, golf courses, timber and land improvement projects.”

The 72-year-old “has dozens of companies listed on his
Annual State Ethics Disclosures,” West Virginia’s MetroNewsreported Wednesday. “The governor did not place most of his family’s assets in a blind trust, but has repeatedly said responsibility for running the businesses has been given to Jay and his adult daughter Jill Justice.”

During a Wednesday briefing, the governor reportedly reiterated that he has no control over the day-to-day operations of coal companies and said “the Biden administration is aware that with a victory for the US Senate and all, we could very well overthrow the Senate. You know, sometimes government agencies can surely react, and that could be something about that.

“But with all that is said – as I’ve said over and over again, and you’ve seen it thousands, millions of times – when something happens and someone
rear an ugly head, do we run and jump in a hole and die? We don’t do that,” Justice added. “You know, my son and my daughter and our companies will always fulfill their obligations, every single one of them, and absolutely, at the end of the day, haven’t we done it and done it and done it?”

MetroNewspointed out that in 2019, under Trump, federal prosecutors filed a similar $4.7 million lawsuit against several Justice coal companies resulting in nearly 2,300 citations, which resulted in a settlement in 2020. Earlier this month, prosecutors filed a motion regarding the companies’ failure to make four consecutive payments since February.

The new suit comes after the East Carolina University survey center on Tuesday
released polling results that show that in a hypothetical 2024 U.S. Senate race between Justice and Manchin, the governor has a 22-point lead, winning the support of 54% of West Virginia’s registered voters, compared to 32 % who said they would support the incumbent.

The 75-year-old Democratic senator – who has come under fire nationally for serving fossil fuel interests and thwarting his own party’s agenda – has yet to say whether he plans to seek re-election. However, there has been speculation that he may run for president next year instead. manchin
said in a statement last month: “Make no mistake, I will win every race I enter.

Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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