A West Virginia coal billionaire has more than 250 pending violations at mining operations in Kentucky and four other states.
The Courier-Journal cited data from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in reporting that almost half of the citations against mines owned by Jim Justice are located in Kentucky, where enforcement officials have set an Aug. 11 deadline to take corrective action. Other violations are pending at operations in West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama.
Kentucky regulators threatened to suspend mining permits for Justice companies in June due to frustration over a slow response, but set the later date after the companies responded with a plan to take “serious actions.”
“I would say, without going back and looking at all of the records, this is the most serious set of violations that I have seen in my seven years,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters said about the environmental record of companies owned by Justice.
Justice, who has a friendly relationship with Gov. Steve Beshear, acknowledged the violations are significant.
“But I do believe that every single last one of these issues will be corrected and resolved to the pleasure of the agencies,” he told The Courier-Journal. “I absolutely do, without any question whatsoever.”
Justice, who has given $400,000 to Beshear political causes since early 2011, dismissed any suggestion that his relationship with Beshear has played into how the matter has been handled.
Peters said he has kept the governor informed about the issues, but said Beshear hasn’t tried to interfere.
“The governor’s directions to me were very simple: ‘You do what’s right. Make sure it’s consistent with any action you’ve taken. And you make the judgment on what needs to be done,”‘ Peters said.
State regulators say their concerns about Justice-owned mines center around water pollution, the failure to keep pace with reclamation activities and the failure to pay fines.
It isn’t clear what the mining operations promised to warrant a delay in repercussions. Peters decline to talk about details while officials seek a resolution with Justice representatives.
“We’re going through some pretty serious negotiations,” Peters said.
Justice said the corrective actions include “all kinds of stuff in regard to water sampling, there’s some reclamation work, there’s a whole litany of stuff that the agencies want, and we have put all our people on to get this stuff caught up.”
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