By Michael Virtanen
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Mining operations controlled by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice haven’t paid $4.6 million in safety fines and penalties, according to federal authorities.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration said that was the unpaid balance as of Wednesday. Most of it is at the Treasury Department for collection.
Some operations have an installment agreement with the federal agency that covers $571,000 of the debt and paid $975,000 previously, according to the federal office.
Justice listed 50 companies involved in mining in his financial disclosure last year at the state ethics commission. He has said he’ll put his businesses now run by his children in a blind trust while governor. The ethics commission hasn’t approved such a trust.
The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply to requests Friday for comment.
Southern Coal Corp., a Justice-owned holding company, said recently in response to an Associated Press query about unpaid taxes that it will meet every obligation owed. The company didn’t immediately reply Friday to a query about safety fines and penalties.
The unpaid safety penalties and tax debts owed by Justice-owned coal companies were first reported in October by National Public Radio and The Associated Press.
Justice, while campaigning, made no apologies for the debt owed by some of his coal companies, saying he is doing everything he can to keep his businesses running and workers employed while other companies go under.
He told the AP in November, following his election, that he didn’t know how much the West Virginia tax liens were but “anything that’s owed to the state will absolutely be paid and cleaned up,” depending on whether payment plans are already in place.
He pointed out that he’s paid many tax debts owed by his companies’ former owners. Last year when he completed a $5 million buyback of Mechel Bluestone Inc. from Russian company Mechel OAO, there were outstanding delinquent taxes of $2.5 million each to McDowell and Wyoming counties.
“The Russians would have never paid them, and I paid them in full,” Justice said.
Justice has been reported to be the richest man in West Virginia, with a fortune estimated at $1.56 billion by Forbes magazine and a profusion of coal and agricultural interests. He is forgoing the governor’s $150,000 annual salary and has emphasized that he personally wants nothing from the office and is focused on governing for the sake of the state’s 1.8 million people.
He was elected at age 65 as a Democrat in his first run for statewide office in a largely self-funded campaign.