Leah Willingham Published

Gov. Justice Repeatedly Late Paying Mine Safety Penalties


West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has consistently missed deadlines in recent months to pay the U.S. government the millions of dollars he owes in penalties for unsafe working conditions at his coal mines, according to federal court documents.

The Republican governor — who owns dozens of companies and has been called the most wealthy man in all of West Virginia — was ordered to pay $5.1 million by a federal judge in April 2020.

That was after the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration brought a lawsuit against 23 of his companies, saying he failed to pay fees associated with hundreds of mine safety penalties between 2014 and 2019.

Since at least December, Justice has been late on payments, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia. Payments have been made only after reminders and notices filed in court by the U.S. government.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh said Justice’s companies “have provided no reason for their noncompliance and have not complied despite the United States’ numerous inquiries,” according to a March 31 motion filed to compel Justice to make his required payment.

Congress relies on the enforcement of financial penalties to incentivize coal operators to comply with mandatory health and safety standards outlined in the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, Kavanaugh said.

“If Defendants are allowed to ignore their obligations, it undermines the authority of this Court and removes the incentive of these defendants — and other mining companies — from complying with MSHA’s health and safety standards designed to protect the nation’s miners,” he said.

The April 2020 order states that Justice make an initial payment of around $212,909 by April 15, 2020, followed by monthly payments of a little more than $102,400 until his debt is paid off.

Payments are due on the first of the month. In court documents filed March 31, U.S. attorneys said Justice’s December payment, due Dec. 1, 2021, arrived Jan. 19, after the United States filed a “notice of non-compliance.” The January payment did not arrive until Jan. 28.

The February payment was made March 14, after several reminders. The U.S. filed another motion to compel Justice to pay March’s payment. Justice’s lawyer, Aaron Balla Houchens, said in court documents filed Monday that it had been paid.

Justice did not respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment.