A civil lawsuit has been filed against 23 coal companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and operating in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, which seeks more than $4.7 million in unpaid penalties for violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

The civil action, filed by United States Attorney Thomas Cullen in the Western District of Virginia on behalf of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), claimed that the companies failed to pay penalties or notify MSHA that it contested the penalties on at least 2,297 citations that were issued to the mine operators between May 3, 2014, and May 3, 2019. Cullen said it was “unacceptable” and they “will hold them accountable.”

“The MSHA plays a critical role in protecting our coal miners and ensuring that mine owners and operators fulfill their legal obligations to provide safe and healthy working conditions,” U.S. Attorney Cullen said. “As alleged in the complaint, the defendants racked up over 2,000 safety violations over a five-year period and have, to date, refused to comply with their legal obligations to pay the resulting financial penalties.”

Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA David Zatezalo said mine operators should be held responsible for what they owe. “In the Mine Act, Congress was extremely clear on enforcement matters: federal inspectors issue citations for safety and health violations, which carry a monetary fine,” he said. “Failure to pay penalties is unfair to miners who deserve safe workplaces, and to mine operators who play by the rules.”

According to Cullen, when the defendants failed to pay the civil penalties for 100 days, despite two demand letters, MSHA referred the civil penalties to the Department of Treasury for collection. Another written demand was issued from the Department of Treasury, but the companies still did not pay. On September 5, 2018, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia made a written demand on the defendants for the delinquent debts. The defendants still failed to pay the outstanding debts, Cullen added.

In the complaint, the United States is seeking judgment against the 23 defendants for $3,954,984.37, the total principal amount of unpaid civil penalties owed. An additional $821,386.03 in administrative costs and interest is being sought.

The 23 defendants are: Southern Coal Corp.; Justice Coal of Alabama; A&G Coal Corp.; Black River Coal; Chestnut Land Holdings; Double Bonus Coal Co.; Dynamic Energy; Four Star Resources; Frontier Coal Co.; Infinity Energy; Justice Energy Co.; Justice Highwall Mining; Kentucky Fuel Corp.; Keystone Service Industries; M&P Services; Nine Mile Mining; Nufac Mining Co.; Pay Car Mining; Premium Coal Co.; S and H Mining; Sequoia Energy; Tams Management; and Virginia Fuel Corp.

According to court documents, each of the defendant companies operated at least one mine with delinquent, uncontested MSHA penalties.