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Billionaire's Coal Struggles Irking Biz Owners

"Everybody should be really confident they're going to get paid," he said.

Justice offered a dire outlook on the future of coal, as demand in the U.S. slumps and cheap natural gas entices electric utilities.

"You're in a time when the world economies are really struggling, our economy is really struggling, utilities are converting to natural gas, and you may be witnessing the death of the coal industry," Justice said.

Justice joined his dad's business in the 1970s, and helped expand its reach into agriculture, golf courses and timber, according to Justice's personal biography. He took over the company after his father's death in 1993. The company's mining interests ventured into Kentucky in 2007 and Tennessee the next year. Justice said his 80 companies employ about 5,000 people.

Federal records say Justice controls nearly 120 coal mines, most of them in central Appalachia, though only 21 are listed as actively mining coal. Another 18 are temporarily idled.

In 2009, he sold the company's West Virginia coal operations to Russian steel firm Mechel for a reported $436 million and another $240 million in Mechel shares. That same year Justice closed on a $20 million deal to buy the historic Greenbrier Resort, which has hosted U.S. presidents and royalty.

After the purchase of the Greenbrier, Justice was hailed as "a great humanitarian" who "wants to help everyone" by then-West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Paul Bryant, principal at Greenbrier East High School in Justice's hometown of Lewisburg, said the Greenbrier purchase saved the town of about 3,800 people. Justice is the head coach of the girls and boys basketball teams at the school.

"He saved 1,600 jobs and people's lives and their families and their futures," Bryant said. "I mean, if the Greenbrier Hotel would've gone under, I really kind of see this place as a ghost town."

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