Government, Latest News

Justice says coal assets discussed for months

CHARLESTON — The Wall Street Journal has reported that Gov. Jim Justice’s family has started exploring the sale of coal assets, and the governor is vehement that has nothing to do with his consideration of a U.S. Senate run.

“The thing that blows me away about stuff like that is they tie it to a Senate run,” Justice said Wednesday. “I mean, give me a bloomin’ break.”

The possibility of a sale was raised last year as Justice’s coal company, Bluestone, worked to resolve millions of dollars in debt to the international lender Credit Suisse.

The news in the Wall Street Journal story was that the Justice family has hired the global investment banking firm Perella Weinberg Partners to explore the sale. But the Journal also made note of the timing, as West Virginia’s term-limited governor also explores a U.S. Senate run that could pit him against his sometimes friend, incumbent Joe Manchin.

The debt, along with regular news reports about remediation issues and benefits for retirees, could receive national scrutiny in the spotlight of the race for a seat in an almost evenly divided U.S. Senate.

Justice emphasized that, in his view, the Senate run is unrelated.

“It has nothing to do with — my God a livin’ how in the world we could come up to tie that to a Senate run is ridiculous. That’s all there is to it,” he said.

Justice pointed toward the earlier statements about the possibility of a sale, pointed out that metallurgical coal prices make the timing of such a sale optimal and noted that this kind of exploration isn’t completely unusual for a family-owned company. The chief executive of Bluestone Resources is Justice’s adult son, Jay.

“Bluestone is a great big footprint,” he said, describing the regional character of the company.

“What I think they’re doing is, they’re carving out some specific assets and trying to get the specific assets running in a really prudent way to be able to market those at a time when the market is really good, and if they can pull that off that lowers their debt load if not eliminates their debt load — and that just makes things better in their lives.”

The Justice family’s coal properties announced an agreement in mid-2022 with international financial giant Credit Suisse over millions of dollars in debt.

In that announcement, Credit Suisse noted an intention to secure the future for Bluestone’s mining operations, alluding to the possibility of a future sale. “With respect to any outstanding balance following any sale of the Bluestone entities,” Credit Suisse at the time said it “intends to seek recovery through enforcement of its rights.”

Jay Justice, in the announcement, agreed that the proceeds from any sale of the Bluestone entities would be shared between the Justice family and Credit Suisse noteholders.

Even before those public statements, financial reporters in 2021 described the likelihood of Credit Suisse being offered half the proceeds from any sale of the Bluestone properties.

Justice alluded to those talks when responding today to questions from West Virginia reporters.

“This has been a long-term deal,” Justice said Wednesday. “I think there was an agreement that was put in place — it could have been six to nine months ago to where it was put in place, what Bluestone was going to do. Jay runs this every single day, and what was going to be done was as things progressed forward that they were going to contact a marketing agent, and I think they’ve done that.

“That agent was going to put together specific assets of Bluestone, not the entire company, just specific assets of Bluestone and offer them up for sale. But it’s still in its infancy stages and everything. If it were all put together, it would probably be put together in the months ahead. But probably this is still months and months and months away.”