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Justice buys back coal company from Russians

Jim Justice, who owns The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, announced late Tuesday afternoon that he bought back Bluestone Coal, a McDowell and Wyoming County mining company he previously sold to Mechel OAO, a Russian coal company.

Justice said his new company, called Bluestone Resources Inc., will create 150 new coal mining jobs within the next three months.

“You cannot tell the story of the United States without including coal, and West Virginia coal has been the engine for our nation for over 100 years,” Justice said in a statement he released.

“Today’s announcement shows that the coal industry and over 150 West Virginia coal miners in the near term will be going back to work producing coal to make the highest quality steel for our nation and the world as well,” he said. “West Virginia coal miners have done the heavy lifting in our country for generations and generations. We are now prepared to build toward the future and increase jobs in Southern West Virginia.”

Bluestone’s coal reserves are among the highest-quality metallurgical coal reserves in the world, according to the release. Justice could not be reached for comment.

Last year Kentucky officials fined the billionaire $1.5 million over dozens of reclamation violations at several of his coal mines in eastern Kentucky.

The Bluestone mines have always operated under a contract with the United Mine Workers of America. UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said late Tuesday afternoon that he had not yet heard about Justice repurchasing the mining company.

“The union contract remained the same after Mechel previously bought Bluestone from Justice,” Smith said. Under Russian ownership, the mines still operated with union workers.

Smith said the contract will probably remain the same under the change in ownership announced on Tuesday but that he could not make any further comments until he has studied the situation.

Justice sold Bluestone Coal Corp. to Mechel in May 2009 for more than $436 million in cash and 83.3 million preferred shares of Mechel stock. At that time, Mechel was Russia’s largest producer of metallurgical coal used to make steel.

Justice also bought the Greenbrier in May 2009, rescuing the prominent hotel from bankruptcy.

Headquartered in Beckley, Mechel Bluestone was involved in mining, making steel and metal alloys and in producing electricity.

Justice completed his repurchase of the mines on Thursday, Feb. 12.

The company has more than 565 million tons of some of the highest quality metallurgical coal reserves in the world, according to Justice’s press release.

Mechel Bluestone currently has four coal cleaning plant complexes and several mining sites in McDowell and Wyoming counties.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin both welcomed the news that Justice repurchased the company.

Manchin said, “I am extremely pleased that the mining complexes in McDowell and Wyoming counties will be reopened and our hard-working and dedicated coal miners can get back to work.

“It is no secret that the Appalachian coal mining industry has been hit hard in recent years because of senseless EPA regulations,” Manchin said. “But this announcement should restore hope into the hearts and minds of West Virginians, especially those within the Southern West Virginian coal mining community.

“I thank Jim Justice for pursuing this wonderful new business venture, which continues to show his long record of bringing good jobs to our great state.”

Tomblin said, “Today’s announcement is great news for our state’s hardworking miners and their families. West Virginia coal miners are the best in the world, and I will continue to fight for them as I have throughout my career.”

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

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