Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Accountability audits show lapses in enforcement at some coal mine safety field offices

Internal documents released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration provide examples of lax enforcement dating back to 2008. Documents from the agency's Office of Accountability show "MSHA supervisors often failed to properly review inspection documents, mine inspectors were sometimes lax and inconsistent in their reviews, and some mine inspections weren't conducted according to agency standards and legal requirements," Manuel Quinones of Environment & Energy Daily reports.

The documents were released Friday "in response to pressure from House Republicans skeptical of a push to expand MSHA's regulatory power after the Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 miners last year in West Virginia," Quinones writes. Field offices in Vansant, Va.; Summerville, W.Va.; Hindman, Ky.; Morgantown, W.Va.; and Harlan, Ky., were among those documented as having enforcement lapses. Specific dates, auditor names and information about specific mines were redacted.

"I firmly believe that, like any responsible government agency, MSHA should continuously review its activities to improve its efficiency and performance," MSHA chief Joseph Main said in a statement. "Conducting audits is not a new practice for MSHA; they've been carried out for years." Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline, chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said at a hearing on MSHA audits, "It's pretty damning, when you look at it. It seems ... that the failure is not having enough tools in the toolbox but people using the tools." (Read more, subscription required)

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