West Virginia billionaire businessman Jim Justice announces that he is running for governor of West Virginia as a Democrat in 2016 in White Sulphur Springs , W.Va., Monday, May 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)
There was troubling news out of the coalfields of Kentucky over the last few days about billionaire coal operator Jim Justice, the Democratic candidate for governor here in West Virginia. Here’s the Courier-Journal report from my friend Jim Bruggers:
Kentucky environmental regulators spent the weekend and Monday investigating a mudslide at a Pike County surface mine owned by West Virginia coal baron Jim Justice that they say contributed to local, damaging flooding last week.
State officials Monday confirmed their investigation was centered on Justice’s Bent Mountain mining operations, which had significant reclamation deadlines last year and are the subject of ongoing enforcement activities.
As the C-J explained, the local Appalachian News-Express reports that:
… Water suddenly came rushing out of a hollow, damaging several homes in the community of Meta, late Thursday, about eight miles outside Pikeville.
This all comes in the wake of one report in the C-J that Justice’s required mine reclamation projects in Kentucky are missing cleanup deadlines and a second story that — shockingly — Justice needs more time to finish reclamation at Kentucky operations, including at least through the end of the year to fix a major, three-mile-long “highwall” in Pike County.
All of this undoubtedly provides more fodder for the Republican campaign this fall in support of Justice’s GOP opponent for governor, current Senate President Bill Cole. Whether Justice and the Democrats like it, this stuff is fair game, especially since Justice’s major argument for electing him is that he’s such a successful businessman. If he wants voters to believe he would run the state the way he runs his mining operations, then it’s reasonable for the campaign to include a focus on exactly what Justice’s business model looks like.
At the same time, if the Cole campaign and its supporters want to go down this road, it’s also worth asking them about their own views for regulating the coal industry to stop incidents like the one over the weekend in Kentucky.