- The Department of Justice accused the son of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and 13 coal companies he owns or operates of failing to pay millions of dollars in penalties for environmental violations.
- Jay Justice and the companies have been cited for over 130 violations and owe more than $5 million in civil penalties, among other unpaid fees, the DOJ alleged in a civil complaint.
- Jim Justice launched his campaign for the Senate seat held by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
The Department of Justice on Wednesday accused the son of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and 13 coal companies the younger Justice owns or operates of failing to pay millions of dollars in penalties for environmental violations.
Jay Justice, the governor's son, and those companies under his control, have been cited for over 130 violations and owe more than $5 million in civil penalties, among other unpaid fees, the DOJ alleged in a civil complaint.
"Our environmental laws serve to protect communities against adverse effects of industrial activities including surface coal mining operations," Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a press release.
"Through this suit, the Justice Department seeks to deliver accountability for defendants' repeated violations of the law and to recover the penalties they owe as a result of those violations," Kim said.
The elder Justice, who is reportedly the richest person in West Virginia, has been accused of meddling in his family business empire as governor even after vowing to separate himself from the companies upon taking office. Those businesses have also faced accusations of not paying their bills.
The Republican governor last month launched his campaign for the Senate seat held by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. Justice's campaign insists the governor does not run the family companies.
Manchin, who could face an uphill battle to win another term in the deep-red state despite his incumbent status, has not said if he plans to run for reelection. His seat is seen as the most vulnerable for Democrats who are desperate to keep their slim Senate majority past the 2024 cycle, when they face a daunting electoral map.
Republicans responded to the federal lawsuit by suggesting it was motivated by politics.
"Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and the Democrats have seen the polls that show Jim Justice winning this race, and they're panicking," Justice campaign manager Roman Stauffer said in a statement. "So now the Biden Justice Department has decided to play politics."
"We will see a lot more of this as the Democrats work to help [Republican Senate primary challenger] Alex Mooney because they know they can easily beat him," Stauffer added.
The campaign's stance echoed accusations lobbed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee earlier Wednesday.
"Joe Biden's Department of Justice has gone totally rogue," NRSC spokesman Tate Mitchell said. "Democrats weaponizing the federal government to attack the family of a Republican Senate candidate is a complete abuse of power."
But the DOJ maintained that its lawsuit was about accountability and addressing environmental risks.
"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," U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said in the agency's press release.
The DOJ's 128-page complaint against Jay Justice and his companies covers violations stretching over five years, beginning in 2018.
The lawsuit notes the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement issued more than 100 violations and 50 cessation orders to just three of those companies between 2018 and 2022. The allegations include failing to maintain the face of a dam and ensure its "seismic stability," failing to clear rubble from a haul road after a rock fall and failing to "properly dispose of non-coal waste," among others, according to the complaint.
Those violations "pose health and safety risks or threaten environmental harm," the DOJ wrote.
A lawyer for the Justices' businesses did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Jim Justice was looking to sell the coal businesses.