The Department of Justice on Wednesday filed a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against the coal empire run by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican running for U.S. Senate.
The suit names 13 coal companies owned or operated by the Justice family, in addition to Mr. Justice’s son, James C. Justice III, for allegedly owing more than $5 million in combined penalties and fees for more than 130 environmental and health violations related to coal mining. With interest and administrative expenses, the federal government is seeking roughly $7.6 million it says is due to the Department of Interior.
The legal action comes a month after the governor announced his 2024 candidacy to unseat one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection: Joe Manchin III.
The lawsuit prompted swift accusations from Republicans of political targeting by the Biden administration.
“Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has gone totally rogue,” said Tate Mitchell, a spokesman for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Democrats weaponizing the federal government to attack the family of a Republican Senate candidate is a complete abuse of power.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, labeled the suit “utterly brazen.”
“When I said the Biden DOJ is the most political & partisan DOJ in history, I wasn’t kidding,” Mr. Cruz wrote in a tweet.
Donald Trump Jr., son of former President Donald Trump, tweeted: “Did anyone really think that Biden’s weaponization of the DOJ to target his political opponents was going to stop with Trump?”
A campaign spokesperson for Mr. Justice did not respond to a request for comment.
Todd Kim, assistant attorney general for DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said prosecutors were going after the coal companies to protect Americans.
“Our environmental laws serve to protect communities against adverse effects of industrial activities including surface coal mining operations,” he said. “Through this suit, the Justice Department seeks to deliver accountability for defendants’ repeated violations of the law and to recover the penalties they owe as a result of those violations.”
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Christopher Kavanaugh said that after giving notice, the Justice family coal businesses “failed to remedy those violations and were ordered over 50 times to cease mining activities until their violations were abated.”
“The filing of this complaint continues the process of holding defendants accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of the public and our environment,” Mr. Kavanaugh said.
The Justice family coal empire has faced millions of dollars in fines and legal settlements in years past. Mr. Justice is not named directly in the civil suit and separated himself from the family business after taking office. However, he reportedly still plays a role.
Mr. Justice confirmed in recent months that he is exploring a sale of his companies and their assets to free up debt.