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W.Va. governor's coal companies fail to comply with consent decree – DOJ

Coal companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice's family failed to comply with a consent decree between the company and federal and state governments, according to a new court filing.

Attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department filed a motion to compel compliance with a 2016 consent decree resolving multiple environmental violations by Southern Coal Corp. in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

As part of the consent agreement, Southern Coal and related companies agreed to pay $900,000 in civil penalties, comply with water discharge permits, provide a $4.5 million letter of credit assuring compliance, update compliance quarterly, and pay penalties for noncompliance with the Clean Water Act and the consent decree.

To date, the coal companies have reported payments of $2.9 million in penalties required by the consent decree, according to the filing. Between May 6, 2020, and August 25, 2020, the companies "repeatedly failed to comply" with the consent decree. The failures to comply include not submitting timely permit applications, resulting in unpermitted discharges from operations in Tennessee and Alabama.

In September 2020, the U.S. government issued a demand for penalties and notice of default to the companies and imposed stipulated penalties of $3.2 million. The lawsuit said the companies failed to complete the work in time or pay the penalties. The filing also noted that in December 2020, the U.S. withdrew $1.5 million under the companies' financial assurance provided through the consent decree.

The government demanded that Southern Coal and a subsidiary take all necessary steps to cease unpermitted discharges at the sites identified in Tennessee or face a draw-down on its required financial assurances to have a third party hire and fund contractors to perform the work. Because the companies performed additional work to secure the Tennessee sites during winter weather conditions, the government allowed the companies until spring to complete any necessary stabilization work at the sites.

An attorney representing Southern Coal did not immediately respond to a request for comment on behalf of the company.