Court Upholds Federal Mine Safety Rules Over Owners’ Opposition

By Dylan Lovan | August 21, 2014

New federal rules that labor officials say could save lives at dangerous mining sites have survived a court challenge from mining industry groups.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week dismissed the lawsuit brought by the National Mining Association and other groups.

The new rules, approved in January, allow federal labor officials to designate a mine as a repeat violator of safety rules without a prior warning. It also allows regulators to impose the pattern of violations designation before mine operators are finished appealing the violations, which could hold up enforcement for months or years.

The National Mining Association had argued that Brody Mining, a subsidiary of Patriot Coal in West Virginia, would “have to undergo substantial and costly changes to comply with the pattern of violations rule,” according to the opinion written Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a release last year that Brody Mining’s No. 1 mine had 367 lost work days stemming from eight injuries that the company failed to report to federal authorities. The mine was placed on a pattern of violations under the new rules in October.

The appeals court’s opinion said it did not have jurisdiction to rule in the case.

Nancy Gravatt, the National Mining Association’s senior vice president of communications said the group is “reviewing the decision and will be discussing with the other parties and counsel as to how we will proceed.”

The National Stone Sand and Gravel Association, the Kentucky and Ohio coal associations, the Murray Energy Corp. in Ohio, and the Kentucky-based KenAmerican Resources, along with other groups joined the mining association in the legal challenge.

Federal mine safety officials streamlined their approach to pattern of violations screening in 2007, after back-to-back disasters in 2006 at the Sago and Aracoma mines in West Virginia, and at the Darby No. 1 mine in Kentucky. MSHA developed new screening criteria and a scoring system to produce new computer-generated lists.

Associated Press Writer Brett Barrouquere contributed to this report.

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