You are hereNYT: Mines Fight Strict Laws by Filing More Appeals

NYT: Mines Fight Strict Laws by Filing More Appeals


Don BlankenshipApril 6, 2010- Armed with tougher federal mining laws passed in 2006, federal investigators had new powers to crack down on mines with persistent violations.

But mining companies have been able to fend off this tougher regulatory approach by challenging more of the citations filed against them.

As recently as March, for example, federal mine inspectors found dangerous coal dust accumulations during two separate inspections at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine, the site of an explosion on Monday that killed at least 25 miners.

And throughout last year, the mine, in Montcoal, W.Va., was cited for failing to conduct inspections that would have spotted dangerous piles of coal dust and other unsafe conditions.

Massey appealed at least 37 of the 50 citations for serious safety violations that it received last year.

At a hearing in February, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, complained that the growing number of appeals by coal companies threatened to “render the federal efforts to hold mine operators accountable meaningless.” Mining safety experts have expressed similar concerns.

One in four citations issued against coal mines are now appealed by operators — three times the appeal rate before the law, according to regulators. The result is a backlog of 18,000 pending appeals and $210 million in contested penalties.

The appeals “are also allowing miners, in some cases the worst operators, to escape liability for which they are in fact liable and continue to put miners in harm’s way,” Mr. Miller said at the hearing.

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