State regulators have reached a comprehensive settlement with an out-of-state coal operator to reclaim former mines in eight Eastern Kentucky counties.
Billionaire Jim Justice—who also owns the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia—has been cited by the state more than 400 times in the last two years for not taking appropriate measures to reclaim his coal mines. Under the terms of the agreement, Justice will pay $1.5 million in fines, and post $10.5 million in bonds.
But the deal also reduces from $4.5 million to $1.5 million the amount in fines that Justice must pay, and it 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 state will hold the bonds until the reclamation work is complete. Insufficient bonding has been a problem for Kentucky in the past; in 2012, the federal government threatened to take over the state’s mining program if bond levels weren’t increased. The state took emergency action to raise the bond rates, and the increases became permanent in September, 2012.