WVa gov’s family settles suit over mine selenium discharges

February 17, 2021 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A coal company controlled by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice must pay $270,000 to a nonprofit land protection group and comply with selenium discharge limits under a settlement approved by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge David Faber approved the settlement Wednesday, two months after environmental groups filed the proposed agreement with Bluestone Coal Corp., the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

Last year Faber found the company liable for selenium discharges into waters near a McDowell County mine. High selenium concentrations can be toxic to humans and animals.

Under the agreement, Bluestone must provide quarterly progress reports on pollutant discharge monitoring to several environmental groups, which had sued under the federal Clean Water and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation acts.

The company also must pay a $30,000 federal fine and $270,000 to the West Virginia Land Trust to help finance development of a trail along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. Bluestone already has paid $414,500 for selenium violations from June 2018 to June 2020.

Bluestone had unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that a 2016 agreement between Southern Coal Corp. — another company owned by the Justice family — and the federal Environmental Protection Agency precluded environmental groups from filing the selenium lawsuit.

The five-year-old agreement required Southern to undertake pollution control measures at mines in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

In 2015, Justice completed a $5 million buyback of Bluestone Coal from Russian company Mechel OAO. Just six years earlier, Justice had sold the same mines to Mechel for $436 million in cash in a deal that also off-loaded $132 million in debt. Mechel then laid off many of the mines’ workers.

Justice handed the company over to his children after he was elected governor in 2016.