The Justice Department announced a lawsuit Wednesday against West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s coal empire, seeking more than $5 million in unpaid civil penalties and fees.
Though Justice, a Republican, is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, his adult son who runs the family’s coal operations, James Justice III, and more than a dozen companies the family owns or operates are listed as defendants.
The companies, according to the Justice Department, repeatedly violated federal laws that oversee coal mine operations and failed to pay “uncontested” fines for those violations. The companies also ignored more than 50 orders to stop mining after violations were found to pose “health and safety risks” to workers or that threatened “environmental harm,” prosecutors say.
The lawsuit comes weeks after Gov. Justice launched his US Senate campaign in West Virginia, setting up a potential challenge to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
“Over a five-year period, defendants engaged in over 130 violations of federal law, thereby posing health and safety risks to the public and the environment,” Christopher Kavanaugh, the US attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said in a statement Wednesday.
“After given notice, they then failed to remedy those violations and were ordered over 50 times to cease mining activities until their violations were abated,” Kavanaugh said. “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.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.