Sweeping coal mine reclamation deal reached

August 21, 2014

A sweeping mine reclamation deal between Kentucky state regulators and coal mine operator Jim Justice was reached. In the agreement, the largest in state history in more than a decade, Justice admits to hundreds of violations, promises to post $10.5 million in bonding and puts up his personal assets to guarantee the vast land reclamation that is required, the Courier-Journal reported.

For Justice, the deal reduces the amount in fines to $1.5 million, down from $4.5 million that Justice must pay. The deal also allows Justice to resume mining at three locations where the state ordered that work be stopped because of environmental problems.

"We have tried our best to put together a plan that allows them to get this work done as expeditiously as possible with enough assurance to us to make us feel good that this will be done in as timely a manner as it can be done," said Mike Haines, general counsel for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. "... And I think we've got enough in our pockets right now to think we can get things done if they don't."

For his part, Justice said, "I'm surely not going to comment from the standpoint of a good deal or a bad deal. I wouldn't have signed it if I didn't think it was fair. But irregardless, it's an obligation that we have to fulfill and that's what we'll do."

The agreement covers mining operations in eight counties.

Environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the lower fine but higher bonding seemed to be a reasonable approach to assure reclamation occurs should Justice companies go out of business.

"In terms of environmental protection and ensuring the folks who live downhill and downstream aren't going to be saddled with pollution, you want to emphasize bonding," FitzGerald said.

He added that it was "extremely important" that the cabinet secured commitments from Justice and his son, Jay Justice, to personally guarantee the terms of the agreement.


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