Justice announcing anti coronavirus measures March 12.
Jim Justice, the billionaire skinflint governor of West Virginia, agreed on Wednesday to settle a civil complaint brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against 24 of his coal companies. In the settlement, Gov. Justice agreed to pay $5 million, in monthly installments.
It’s a long sought victory for federal regulators who oversee the nation’s coal mines. Between 2014 and 2019 the Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued 2,297 citations to Justice companies with names like A&G Coal, Kentucky Fuel and Dynamic Energy, for violations of the Mine Act — and assessed penalties of $3.95 million.
According to the government’s claims in the case, Justice simply refused to pay. For years. So MSHA handed off the debts to the U.S. Treasury to collect. No response. Written demands ignored. Finally the feds would take it no more, and on May 7, 2019 filed suit against the Justice companies.
The governor, and his son Jay, who runs the day-to-day, wouldn’t just roll over. Over the past year they countered with fatuous motions challenging jurisdiction (later withdrawn), and complained of government treachery after they thought they had been negotiating a discounted payment plan with a bureaucrat who didn’t have any real authority.
Finally, enough. A settlement. For nonpayment, the Feds have tacked on $821,000 in interest and penalties. And a 10% surcharge. Justice will pay consecutive monthly payments of $102,000 until $5.13 million is paid off — 4 years.
He can comfort himself in knowing that the money will flow back from the federal government into West Virginia. In March, Greenbrier County (home to the Justice-owned Greenbrier resort) received a $1 million FEMA grant for debris removal after devastating 2016 flooding. And last week the state got $5 million to help in fighting coronavirus.
Justice should have enough cashflow from remaining coal mines and the Greenbrier resort to pay his obligation, though the place hasn’t been the same since those 2016 floods. And demand is gradually drying up for American coal, with total U.S. production of 705 million tons last year the lowest since 1978.
In announcing the settlement, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen stated, “It is our hope that this landmark collection action and settlement agreement sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will aggressively pursue mine-safety violations and hold owners and operators accountable.”
A spokesperson and attorney for Justice was not immediately available for comment.