US sues West Virginia governor’s coal empire over unpaid mining penalties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has sued West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s coal empire over allegations it failed to pay around $7.6 million in environmental fines from mining violations.

The civil action, filed on Tuesday against the governor’s son and 13 coal companies he owns or operates, seeks to hold them “accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of the public and our environment,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

The fines follow an assessment by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, according to the statement. The companies had violated federal law more than 130 times from 2018 to 2022, it said.

Justice declined to comment on the lawsuit during a press conference, saying the coal companies were run by his son, Jay. But he said his son and the companies “will always fulfill obligations, every one.”

Reuters could not immediately reach the governor’s son for comment.

Justice, a coal-mining billionaire, is running for the 2024 Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. He has served as West Virginia governor since 2017.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Mark Porter)