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US Files Civil Action to Collect Unpaid Civil Penalties, Reclamation Fee Debts
Complaint Names 13 Coal Companies Owned or Operated by James Justice III

Washington, DC (May 31, 2023) - The Justice Department today announced the filing of a civil action against James C. Justice III and 13 coal companies he owns or operates seeking to collect unpaid civil penalties previously assessed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), as well as Abandoned Mine Land (AML) reclamation fee and audit debts.

“Our environmental laws serve to protect communities against adverse effects of industrial activities including surface coal mining operations,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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.”

“Over a five-year period, defendants engaged in over 130 violations of federal law, thereby posing health and safety risks to the public and the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia. “After given notice, they then failed to remedy those violations and were ordered over 50 times to cease mining activities until their violations were abated. 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.”

Pursuant to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), when a permittee violates SMCRA or their applicable permit, OSMRE issues a notice of violation (NOV) for non-imminently dangerous violations. The NOV sets a deadline for abating the violation. If the permittee fails to abate the violation by the NOV’s deadline, OSMRE issues a cessation order to halt mining until the violation is abated. If the permittee still fails to abate the violation within 30 days of the cessation order, OSMRE can take certain actions, including assessing civil penalties. If the violation creates an imminent danger to the health or safety of the public, OSMRE issues a second type of cessation order, called an Imminent Harm Cessation Order (IHCO), in lieu of an NOV, which requires cessation of active mining until the violation is abated. Separately, a director, officer or agent of a corporate permittee can be subject to individual civil penalties for willfully and knowingly authorizing, ordering or carrying out a permit violation or failure to comply with certain OSMRE orders.

From 2018 to 2022, OSMRE cited the defendants for over 130 violations and issued the companies over 50 cessation orders. The underlying violations pose health and safety risks or threaten environmental harm. In addition, defendants failed to pay required AML fees, which fund the reclamation of coal mining sites abandoned or left in an inadequate reclamation status. According to today’s filing, the total amount of the penalties and AML fees, plus interest, penalties and administrative expenses, owed by the defendants is approximately $7.6 million.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Krista Consiglio Frith for the Western District of Virginia and Trial Attorneys Sally J. Sullivan and Clare Boronow of the Environment and Natural Resources Division are handling this matter.

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