Polluters in West Virginia are held accountable by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Or I should say, should be held accountable. In West Virginia, our DEP is not an independent agency in that the DEP secretary is appointed by our governor and answers directly to that governor. This sets the agency up to be influenced by any given governor’s political interests.
Mr. Jim Justice of Greenbrier County aspires to be our next governor. Jim Justice in recent history owns coal mines in five Appalachian states. As recently reported in a Gazette-Mail article by Ken Ward Jr., these mines owed many millions of dollars in fines and a deal was reached to pay $6 million in fines for over 23,000 water pollution violations from 2009-2014. That does not include illegal pollution in our waters prior to 2009 or after 2014. Over 23,000 water pollution violations is a saddening and grim figure that continues to grow.
All of the states that the Justice coal companies polluted took part in this action with EPA, except West Virginia. Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama – they all want compensation from the damages of illegal coal pollution in their states, so they joined the EPA in the suit. But not West Virginia. Therefore, West Virginia’s waters are not only polluted but West Virginians lose out on our share of these $6 million in fines. Why? Because the WVDEP does not join the EPA suit, all of West Virginia loses. Why? Because the DEP answers to our governor.
Just recently I got a speeding ticket. It’s going to cost me about $150. I’m going to watch my speed more closely to not get another ticket, let alone 23,000 more. Financially it would help me if could wait for seven or eight years to pay this fine and negotiate it down to two or three dollars. But I am expected to comply with the law or pay the full consequences. Coal operators and politicians should do the same.
Jim Justice owns and greatly profits from coal operations that have blatantly polluted and degraded Appalachian waters and continue to do so. These waters belong to all West Virginians and humankind, and he has infringed on our right to them. My core values will not allow me to support Mr. Justice or any candidate who continuously degrades Appalachian waters that have flowed life for hundreds of thousands of years.
We should never elect a governor, that oversees our DEP, that has one of the worst environmental records in our state’s history regardless of what he has done with, or will do, with the money made from it.