Feds Identify 20 Repeat Violators of Mine Health and Safety Rules

December 12, 2007

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has warned 20 companies across the country that they may face sanctions as repeat violators of health and safety rules.

The list includes coal operations in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, along with a cement plant in Kentucky. Each received a letter giving them 90 days to make significant improvements or face a temporary shutdown.

A mine in Indiana received a letter, but it is in the process of being sealed, MSHA spokesman Matthew Faraci said.

The companies are the second group targeted this year by MSHA for repeated violations. In June, the agency sent similar warnings to eight operators.

Those warnings had the desired effect, MSHA director Richard Stickler said in a statement Monday. Six of the eight cut their significant and substantial violation rates an average of 50 percent, he said.

“Hopefully, they will serve as an example to the other 20 operators.”

One of the eight locations warned in June closed a month later, while the final operation was given more time because of a recent sale, MSHA said.

The new group includes five mines controlled by Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy Co., the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer by revenue. Among them is Massey’s Twilight surface mine in Boone County, which MSHA said is 582 percent over the national rate of serious violations.

Two Massey operations appeared on the earlier list as well. One cut its violation rate 32 percent, while the other reduced violations 47 percent, MSHA said.

Massey said it will review documents on which MSHA is basing the potential pattern of violations, discuss the matter with the agency and take all necessary steps to ensure the operations meet the company’s standards.

Other notable operators that received the latest warnings include Richmond, Va.-based James River Coal Co., which had two facilities on the list, and Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy Inc. and Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha Natural Resources, which had one apiece.

Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said it has challenged some of the enforcement actions at the Norton, Va., mine on the list and the company hopes to show the mine is not a proper candidate for stricter enforcement. The mine has not had a lost-time accident this year, Pile said.

Representatives of Consol and James River did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

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