- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A billionaire West Virginia coal operator is making progress in addressing dozens of environmental violations at strip mines he owns in Kentucky, state officials said.

Jim Justice’s companies still have 79 environmental violations pending against them, but that’s down from 129 nearly a year ago, The Courier-Journal reported (https://cjky.it/1KE08Lo).

Kentucky Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohmann says the effort by the Justice companies “seems to be sufficient to meet terms of the agreed order.”

The order required Justice to pay $1.5 million in penalties and post additional bonds and put up his personal assets to guarantee land reclamations at mining sites in eight counties.

Hohmann said the Justice companies got off to a slow start and that on five occasions his department found them in violation of the agreed order for issues like failing to reclaim land on time and not deploying sufficient equipment to reclaim particular sites.

But Hohmann said Justice has retained a conservation organization, the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, to help comply with the order.

Justice said in a phone interview, “Naturally you’re going to have some bumps in the road, but everybody seems to be working together. . I think we’ve made tremendous progress.”

Justice, whose net worth is estimated at nearly $1.7 billion by Forbes, is owner of The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Last month he announced that he is seeking Democratic nomination for governor in West Virginia.

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