Thirteen coal companies owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is being sued over unpaid fines for past mining law violations that the federal government says endanger health and safety or threaten environmental damage.
The justice, who was not named in the lawsuit, accused the Biden administration of retaliation. A two-term Republican governor, Justice announced in April that he will run for Democrat Joe Manchin’s US Senate seat in 2024. He will face current Rep. Alex Mooney in the US GOP primary.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday says that over the past five years, the US Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has cited companies for more than 130 violations. The lawsuit says the total amount of penalties, fees, interest and administrative costs owed by the defendants is about $7.6 million.
US Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh of the Western District of Virginia said the defendants had been ordered more than 50 times to halt mining activities until the violations were corrected.
“Today, the filing of this complaint continues the process of holding the defendants accountable for endangering the health and safety of the public and our environment,” Kavanaugh said in a statement.
Among the violations, the companies failed to ensure the seismic stability of a dam, to maintain sediment-control measures, to clear the rock and debris from a haul road after a rock fall , and proper disposal of non-coal waste.
“Our environmental laws serve to protect communities against the adverse effects of industrial activities including surface coal mining operations,” Assistant US Attorney General Todd Kim of the US Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a news release. “Through this lawsuit, the Department of Justice seeks to hold the defendants accountable for their repeated violations of the law and to recover the penalties they owe as a result of those violations.”
The justice listed 112 coal, agricultural and other businesses in a financial disclosure form he filed this year with the state Ethics Commission, including seven placed in a blind trust in 2017. His worth increased to $ 1.7 billion in recent years, but he was taken. from Forbes’ prestigious list of billionaires in 2021.
Governor’s companies often face litigation over unpaid bills. He has tried to put distance between himself and the businesses, saying his two grown children now run them. His son, Jay Justice, is named in the lawsuit, which lists Roanoke, Virginia, as the coal companies’ main place of business. A message left for Jay Justice in Roanoke was not immediately returned Wednesday
Jim Justice said he did not know the details of the lawsuit but was waiting for his son to explain. During his weekly media availability on Wednesday, the governor also tried to put space between himself and his companies while also pointing a finger at the Biden administration.
“I announced as a Republican that I will run for the US Senate. The Biden administration knows the fact that with a victory for the US Senate and everything, we can flip the Senate,” Justice said. “There’s a lot going on right now.”
After Wednesday, the Senate Justice campaign doubled down on the timing of the case.
“Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and the Democrats saw the polls that showed Jim Justice winning this race, and they panicked,” Roman Stauffer, Justice’s campaign manager, said in a statement. . “So now the Biden Justice Department has decided to play politics. We’re going to see a lot more of this as Democrats work to help Alex Mooney because they know they can easily defeat him.
Image: Justice (AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)
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