Jim Justice’s Southern Coal Corporation has to pay up after allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.
After a five-year investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced a nearly $6 million settlement with Southern Coal Corporation and 26 affiliated companies over pollution allegations.
The settlement isn’t a particularly expensive one by industry standards, but it could have an outsize political impact. That’s because Southern Coal is owned by Jim Justice, a billionaire Democrat who is currently running for governor of West Virginia. In addition to the alleged violations cited in the complaint, Justice’s companies have previously been accused of missing tax payments and racking up unpaid fines imposed for safety violations at their mines, according to local officials and records cited by the Washington Post. (A campaign spokesman told the Post at the time that Justice “has always, and will always, meet every obligation.”)
Unlike many of its competitors, Southern Coal has managed to avoid bankruptcy in an industry rocked in recent years by stricter environmental regulations and increasing competition from cheap natural gas. But the company wasn’t able to escape scrutiny from EPA officials. The agency charged that Southern Coal and its affiliates’ mining and processing operations violated the Clean Water Act by polluting in excess of legal limits, failing to test nearby water, and failing to monitor and submit reports documenting pollutant levels in the water. The companies did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.