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Another cleanup agreement with the feds

Gov. Jim Justice and a family company of his have agreed to stream restoration reporting requirements that the U.S. Department of Justice urged a federal judge to enforce after the department said the Justices failed to meet requirements related to stream restoration in Monroe County in a previous agreement. The previous agreement was a 2016 consent decree that ordered Justice and his family company to submit a detailed restoration plan after the feds alleged they violated federal and state water pollution laws by discharging pollutants along Turkey Creek in Monroe County.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and a company controlled by his children have agreed to address environmental violations as urged by the feds after they went after him in federal court last month for again failing to comply with a consent order under which he pledged to address environmental violations.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Gov. Justice and James C. Justice Companies Inc. proposed a consent order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Wednesday by which the governor and his companies would agree to submit post-restoration reports to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and record deed restrictions to protect restored portions of property in Monroe County.

The Department of Justice had said that Gov. Justice and his companies failed to comply with stream restoration-related requirements of a February 2016 consent decree that ordered them to submit a detailed restoration plan after alleging they violated federal and state water pollution laws by discharging pollutants along Turkey Creek in Monroe County.

The feds, in conjunction with the state Department of Environmental Protection, asked U.S. District Judge David Faber in a filing last month to enforce the consent decree, saying that Justice and James C. Justice Companies Inc. had failed to submit post-restoration reports to the EPA and record deed restrictions to protect the property.

In court filings Wednesday, Justice and James C. Justice Companies Inc. agreed to record deed restrictions within 30 days, and submit to the EPA an initial post-restoration monitoring report and additional post-restoration monitoring reports for 10 years, starting in April 2022.

The Justice defendants agreed to pay $5,000 to the feds for court costs, including attorneys’ fees.

Faber has yet to approve the proposed agreement.

Justice and James C. Justice Companies Inc. had agreed to abide by the February 2016 consent order to resolve allegations filed in December 2015 that they violated the federal Clean Water Act by constructing 20 impoundments along a 1.5-mile stretch of Turkey Creek, and an unnamed tributary of the creek near McGlone, starting in 2011 that discharged unpermitted dredged or fill material.

The James C. Justice Companies Inc., is a Roanoke, Virginia-based stock corporation, according to Virginia state business records.

The Department of Justice said in its filing asking Faber to enforce the 2016 consent decree last month that the Justice defendants had paid a $220,000 civil penalty on time and satisfactorily performed restoration work after the EPA imposed conditions to address what the department says were deficient plans from the defendants for removing the unauthorized dams from the streams.

But the department said the defendants had submitted none of the required six post-restoration reports they should have since May 2019, and that the deed restrictions have been overdue since August 2016.

The feds said last month that Justice and his company had been unresponsive following telephone calls and written correspondence, including follow-up letters in August and October 2018, September 2019, March 2020 and April 2021, in addition to less-formal EPA staff communications between May 2020 and February 2021.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission lists James. C. “Jay” Justice III, Gov. Justice’s son, as the president of James C. Justice Companies Inc., and his daughter, Jillean L. Justice, as a director of the company. Justice said he would put his children in charge of his family’s business operations upon becoming governor in 2016.

The Department of Justice alleged in March that the governor’s coal companies failed to comply with a separate 2016 consent order.

That consent decree required Southern Coal Corp. and two-dozen other companies to pay a $900,000 civil penalty to resolve more than 23,000 water pollution violations. Half of that amount was to go to the federal government, with the rest being split among Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia after a complaint alleged the companies discharged pollutants into state waters in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The agreement noted the companies had “limited financial ability to pay” after reviewing their financial information and required them to provide a $4.5 million letter of credit to guarantee compliance, submit quarterly reports tracking compliance and pay daily penalties for noncompliance varying by violation. The filing notes that the federal government withdrew $1.5 million from that line of credit.

The coal companies reported paying $2,866,750 in stipulated penalties, and Southern Coal Corp., Premium Coal Co. Inc. and Justice Coal of Alabama LLC repeatedly failed to comply with requirements under the consent agreement between May 6 and Aug. 25 of last year, according to the feds’ filing in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. 

A settlement conference between the parties in August did not settle the case, according to court filings.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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