The Bulletin

Groups say they’ll sue Justice coal company over cleanup failures at Wise County mines

By: - May 11, 2022 12:01 am

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier Resort, is connected to companies responsible for performing millions of dollars worth of yet-to-be finished mine reclamation work. He is pictured here at the first round of the Greenbrier Classic on The Old White Course at the Greenbrier Resort on July 29, 2010 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Three environmental groups announced Tuesday that they plan to sue one of the coal companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice over its failure to clean up three mines in Wise County. 

On May 10, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club sent Justice notification that his A&G Coal Corporation “is in ongoing and continuing violation of certain federal and state regulations.” 

The violations identified by the three groups are linked to surface mining operations at the Looney Ridge Surface Mine #1, the Sawmill Hollow #3 Mine and the Canepatch Surface Mine.

All three mines are located in Wise County.

Dan Radmacher, a spokesperson with Appalachian Voices, said the 60-day notification is a legal requirement under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, a landmark 1977 law regulating the environmental impacts of coal mining. 

The Looney Ridge surface mine No. 1 in Wise County is one of several unreclaimed mine sites owned by companies tied to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. The lack of action at the mine site was a major factor in leading the Justice companies to sign a reclamation compliance plan with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy in 2014. (Photo by Chelsea Barnes/ Appalachian Voices)

The Virginia Department of Energy has issued numerous notices of violation to A&G Coal over the years, and in 2014 the company was one of seven Justice family companies to enter into a compliance agreement with the state requiring the clean up of multiple mine sites, including two of the three currently at issue.  

The agency wrote it had “become concerned about timely abatement of violations issued to the Justice companies’ permits, timely payment of outstanding civil penalties associated with the violations … and the Justice companies’ level of commitment to perform reclamation and maintenance at both active and inactive permit sites.”  

Since then, the agreement has been amended several times but the sites have still not been fully reclaimed, the term used by regulators for environmental cleanup. The third mine the environmental groups have identified as a subject of their lawsuit was added to the compliance agreement in 2019. 

The three groups preparing to sue A&G said in a statement Tuesday that “almost no reclamation progress” has occurred at any of the three mine sites. 

Mines need to be reclaimed in a timely manner because delays have real consequences,” said Matt Hepler, an environmental scientist with Appalachian Voices in the same statement. “As mines sit idle, conditions on the mine can deteriorate, ultimately making cleanup more expensive, and creating potential hazards for communities who live under the mine.” 

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.