Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crackdown on mine safety violations increases backlog of citations

The Obama Administration's efforts to reduce the backlog of contested mine safety violations have backfired as the Mine Safety and Health Administration issues more citations. "The list of unresolved safety appeals has grown to 18,100 cases, from 16,600 at the time of the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine," which killed 29 West Virginia coal miners in April, Kimberly Kindy and David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post reports. "The increase has occurred, safety experts said, because more citations are being issued, and companies are fighting back harder than ever."

"The result is that instead of revolutionizing mine safety in the wake of the worst mining disaster in 40 years, some experts said government officials have succeeded only in generating increased litigation," the reporters write. Nine men have died in U.S. coal mines since the Upper Big Branch disaster. Administration officials say the crackdown has worsened the backlog only in the short term and that "a growth in staffing from increased funding should eliminate the backlog," Kindy and Fahrenthold report.

The recent MSHA crackdown has been focused on mines the agency considers to be high risk, and the agency reports that consequently many of the recent citations have been "significant and substantial." Serious citations "carry fines of thousands rather than hundreds of dollars and are twice as likely to be contested before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission," the reporters write. Mining companies counter they are fighting the citations harder than ever because many are faulty. "The violations in the law are open to interpretation by the inspector. If we think there has been a misinterpretation of the law, of course we challenge it," Nicholas Deluliis, chief operating officer for Consol Energy, told the reporters. "We're not trying to gum up the system." (Read more)

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