Potential Gubernatorial Candidate Plans MTR Mine Near A Head-Start Preschool

Billionaire and Greenbrier  Resort owner Jim Justice.

Billionaire and Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice.

In an April 21 article, Jim Justice, owner of Southern Coal Corporation, told the Beckley Register-Herald that he is considering running for WV governor in the 2016 election.  For the record, OVEC, as a tax-exempt organization, never advocates for or against any political candidate.  We do believe, however, that we play a positive role by providing citizens with information about candidates so that they can make informed decisions before voting.

Jim Justice, best known as the owner of the Greenbrier Resort and pulling it out of bankruptcy, told the Beckley paper that he had been considering a run for governor for some time.  Estimated at a net worth of $1.69 billion by Forbes, Justice made the majority of his wealth from the coal mines he owns, and he was even hailed by Senator Joe Manchin (then governor) as being “a great humanitarian” who “wants to help everyone.”  He is portrayed as charitable and friendly person who often does community work and as the savior of the Greenbrier.  But some others see him in a different light.

It seems that Justice has a rather large sum of unpaid fines and bills for services.  Several business owners throughout the Appalachian region have filed at least 9 lawsuits, some for over $1million, for unpaid work at Justice-owned mines; several others plan to file lawsuits for what Justice owes them.  Although he acknowledges the debts, Justice blames the recent severe downturn in the market for coal for his inability to pay.  Four of the nine lawsuits have been settled for undisclosed amounts.

Jim Justice owns several deep-mine and mountaintop removal sites in operation throughout the region and has a history of delayed payment of violations and fees, discharging toxic pollutants into streams and cutting corners in his operations.  For example, our allies Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment (SOCM) and Sierra Club are bringing several lawsuits forward against operations owned by Justice for Clean Water Act violations in Tennessee.  One Justice mine, S&H Mining’s Deep Mine 11, was found to be discharging iron, manganese, and suspended solids into nearby Tennessee waterways in amounts that exceed permit limits.

Justice mines have been cited for more than 250 environmental violations in five states with unpaid

Jim Justice with WV Senator Joe Manchin

Jim Justice with WV Senator Joe Manchin.

penalties worth about $2 million.  Violation notices — including many cessation orders — from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and state regulators have been issued for Justice mines in AL, KY, TN, VA and WV.  Federal records say Justice has control of nearly 120 coal mines, most of them in central Appalachia, though only 21 are listed as actively mining coal. Another 18 are temporarily idled.  His company ranks among the top 10 companies in the nation with outstanding fines.  An NPR/Mine Safety and Health News analysis of federal records shows that the delinquent Justice mines committed nearly 4,000 violations, 1,300 of which were classified by federal inspectors as reasonably likely to cause injury or illness if uncorrected. More than 500 were the kinds of violations that were common in mine disasters, accidents and deaths.

Justice has recently purchased back the Bluestone Coal Corporation in WV, which he previously sold  to the Russian steel firm, Mechel, for a reported $436 million and another $240 million in Mechel shares.  But Justice purchased it back for only $5million — 99% less than what he sold it for. One Bluestone mine (with OVEC’s organizing assistance to community members and the aid of lawyers) was ordered by a judge — just before Justice bought it back — to supply the residents of Cedar Creek Road in Wyoming Co. with emergency water because of contamination to personal drinking wells from mining just before Justice bought it back.  They are still currently in litigation for further penalties for contaminating the water in Cedar Creek.  Additionally, the poor operation at some of his mountaintop removal mines in southwest Virginia prompted a recent campaign among OVEC allies within the central Appalachian region — the “Justice to Justice Campaign.”

A haul road leads to the top of the Tams mountaintop removal mine near Beckley, W. Va., which is operated by Jim Justice's Southern Coal Corp.

A haul road leads to the top of the Tams mountaintop removal mine near Beckley, WV, which is operated by Jim Justice’s Southern Coal Corp.

Jim Justice now owns a new permit in McDowell County, WV, that have many upset. Why, you ask?  The Justice Low Seam Mining Big Creek Surface Mine (Permit # S400511) would not only be one of the latest mining operations to wreak havoc on the already ill and economically depressed McDowell County, but also the 468.3-acre surface mine would be located within a half-mile of the Endwell Head Start preschool.  Children attending preschool while heavy machinery and explosives dismantle a mountain near them, causing them to breathe in toxic dust, is exactly what will happen if the DEP allows Jim Justice to mine near Endwell.  The permit for the mine has been approved, but is currently waiting for the DEP to grant its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  This might not end well for Endwell.

On March 26, about a dozen McDowell County residents met at Big Creek People in Action in Caretta in McDowell County along with supporters from Coal River Mountain Watch, OVEC and Appalachian Voices, to voice their opposition to this permit at an informal conference by the DEP.  They were greeted by what appeared to be very annoyed and bored officials from the agency.

hearing

Annette Brichford testifying at the March 26th hearing in Caretta, WV. Photo by Vernon Haltom, Coal River Mountain Watch.

Annette Brichford, former director of Catholic Charities in McDowell County, testified on her experience with another Jim Justice operation: “Our daycare staff had to wipe coal dust from the kids’ eyes after they played outdoors. When they blew their noses, it came out black. We had to hose down the dust from the playground equipment every day… I fear the same thing for the children of Endwell Head Start if another Jim Justice mountaintop removal site is permitted.”

McDowell Co. resident Al Justice (no relation to Jim Justice) added: “You’re robbing our future economic development.  Where’s the economic development that was supposed to come with the existing permits? You know it’s criminal. You know it’s wrong.”

So, while Jim Justice considers a run for governor of West Virginia, the DEP is considering giving him a permit to mine within a half-mile of a preschool, knowing that correlations have been found in peer-reviewed scientific health studies linking the proximity of MTR to a higher risk of health impacts.  This is especially true for children, whose growing, developing bodies are particularly vulnerable to pollution of all kinds.

Justice will make an announcement on his intentions for the 2016 WV governors race on Monday, May 11, 2015.


 

*UPDATE*

As of 3:30pm ET on May 11th, Jim Justice has announced his candidacy for the 2016 WV gubernatorial election.

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The Author

Dustin

Dustin is an OVEC organizer. He's an 11th generation Appalachian, born and raised in West Virginia. He grew up in one of top coal producing counties. He is descended from a long line of coal miners including his own father, who passed away from cancer in 2014. Once an avid coal supporter, he was made aware of its destructive practices when Patriot Coal Company began blowing up a mountain named for his ancestors, surrounding their 200-year-old graves with a barren moonscape in a practice known as mountaintop removal (MTR). Witnessing increased flooding, entire communities uprooted and erased, and an ever escalating rate of poverty and health issues throughout the coal fields of Appalachia, he now works with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition to educate others, bring an end to the practice of mountaintop removal, and make a just transition away from coal to create a more sustainable and economically diverse Appalachia. He will continue to fight for the victims of coal and to save the mountains he loves.

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