Coal companies connected with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice deny that they owe nearly $4 million in unpaid fines for miner-safety violations and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in costs and fees.
Responding last week to a suit filed in May by U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, 14 companies — including several based in Roanoke — denied that monetary obligations have been left unpaid. Nine other companies named in the suit objected to litigating the matter in Roanoke federal court, saying they’ve never done business or been based in Virginia. They are based in West Virginia, the suit said.
Neither challenge had been ruled on as of mid-day Thursday.
Cullen’s suit said the 23 companies violated regulations of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, incurred civil penalties and refused to pay over a five-year span. The suit asks for nearly $4 million in allegedly unpaid fines, $821,386 for administrative costs and interests accrued so far, future interest calculated at 8% a year, a 10% surcharge and a court order forbidding the companies from violating mining laws in the future. The controllers of the companies are the governor; his son, Jay Justice of Roanoke; and his daughter, Jillian Justice, the suit said.
The defendants’ filings listed 22 possible defenses to Cullen’s legal action and asked that the case be tossed out.
In addition, Jay Justice and 12 coal entities under his direction in May sued the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in reaction to the Department of Justice suit against the 23 Justice-related coal entities. That office regulates surface coal mining and post-mining land reclamation from an environmental-protection perspective.
Jay Justice’s suit said that the 12 companies were prepared to resolve all outstanding matters related to fines, fees and penalties incurred with the environmental regulator, but that the agency backed out of a deal reached in April and said it would instead ask the Justice Department to sue over those matters as well. The lawsuit seeks a court order enforcing what Jay Justice and his companies considered a final agreement. The Justice coal entities want to resolve all environmental and mine-safety matters in one “global” agreement, a statement by the companies said.
The government’s desire for more litigation harms the mining companies, risks the jobs of hundreds of workers and may have been inspired by “political adversaries of the Justice family,” the suit said.
The surface mining office had not yet responded to the suit.