Lawmakers Want Answers from Mine Administration on Penalties

January 31, 2008

Lawmakers want to know why federal mine safety regulators didn’t assess penalties for hundreds of citations issued since 2000, and what is being done to correct the problem.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration discovered the problem after it recently checked into whether a Kentucky coal operator had been assessed a penalty following a Dec. 30, 2005, accident where a coal miner bled to death after not receiving proper first aid, the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail reported.

The review showed the company had never been fined. MSHA spokesman Matthew Faraci told The Associated Press on Sunday that the maximum fine was assessed Jan. 18 for $60,000.

“This is another regrettable example of how MSHA has strayed from its statutory mission,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said Monday. “I will pursue this matter with MSHA to ensure the safety of our coal mines.”

Preliminary data showed that penalties had not been assessed against about 4,000 citations issued by the agency between January 2000 and July 2006. MSHA director Richard Stickler told the newspaper that the review also showed that penalties had never been assessed for a few hundred citations issued in 1996.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of health and safety violations in the nation’s mines have essentially gone unpunished,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and chairman of the House Labor Committee, said Monday. “MSHA should explain why this problem has persisted for so many years and what will be done to quickly end it.”

The agency has had the authority to assess monetary fines for violations since 1969.

Stickler told the newspaper that he has ordered his staff to take steps to ensure that the problem is corrected.

Information from: The Charleston Gazette,

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