U.S. Attorney files lawsuit against 13 Justice-family coal companies for unpaid penalties

By Matthew Young, RealWV

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “You’ve got to remember now – I’ve announced that, as a Republican, that I am running for the U.S. Senate. The Biden Administration is aware of the fact that, with a win, we could very well flip the Senate (to Republican majority). Government agencies can sometimes surely react, and this could be something in regard to that.”

That’s what West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said on Wednesday, in response to questions from reporters regarding the Justice Department’s efforts to collect unpaid civil penalties from 13 coal companies owned by the Justice family. Those efforts came in the form of a civil action filed through the Western District of Virginia, and seeks federal assistance in recouping penalties imposed by the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).  In addition, the Justice Department is requesting that all other miscellaneous fees be paid for numerous violations occurring between 2018 and 2022. 

In a Wednesday-morning statement released by his office, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Christopher Kavanaugh said, “Over a five-year period, defendants (Justice family-owned coal companies) engaged in over 130 violations of federal law, thereby posing health and safety risks to the public and the environment.”

“After [being] given notice, they (Justice family-owned companies) then failed to remedy those violations and were ordered over 50 times to cease mining activities until their violations were abated,” Kavanaugh went on to say. “Today, the filing of this complaint continues the process of holding defendants accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of the public and our environment.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s statement, during the five-year period from 2018 until 2022, 13 Justice family-owned coal companies were cited by the OSMRE for more than 130 violations of federal law. The statement adds that these violations “pose health and safety risks or threaten environmental harm.” 

Although Justice clarified that it was not he who was named in the filing, but rather his son, James C. “Jay” Justice III, he defended his family’s business practices, saying, “My son, and my daughter (Jill – not named in filing), and absolutely our companies, will always fulfill obligations – every single one.”

“Absolutely, at the end of the day, have we not done it, and done it, and done it?” Justice asked. “What my job is, is to do this job (governor). And with all the pressures of stuff like this – I hate it too, all the stresses, it’s off the charts. It’s tough on anybody. That’s all there is to it. When you see something like this, naturally it knocks your socks off.”

“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Justice added. “But absolutely, at the end of the day, I have persisted to do my job, and my job is to be your governor – that’s what I’ve done.”

Justice then doubled-down on his belief that the Justice Department’s civil action was politically motivated. Due to his status as a Republican Senatorial candidate, Justice said that he and his family are “even a bigger target today,” adding, “So, you’re going to see stuff like this, but I will continue to have all my attention toward the governorship.”

The 13 companies listed in the suit are: 

A&G Coal Corp., Bluestone Coal Corp., Bluestone Oil Corp., Chestnut Land Holdings LLC., Dynamic Energy Inc., Frontier Coal Co., Justice Energy Co., Kentucky Fuel Corp., National Coal LLC., Pay Car Mining Inc., Premium Coal Co. Inc., S and H Mining Inc., and Tams Management Inc. James C. “Jay” Justice III is listed as a separate plaintiff in the suit. The Justice Department’s filing indicates that the total current amount owed by the Justice family – including fees, penalties, interest, and expenses – is approximately $7.6 million. 

The RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of the civil action as additional information is made available. 

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