Failing to perform a pre-shift examination at a West Virginia coal mine is going to cost a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary $50,000.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. fined Richmond, Va.-based Massey’s White Buck Coal Co. that amount Wednesday for a misdemeanor charge of willfully violating a mandatory safety standard. White Buck had pleaded guilty to the charge, which involved failing to perform a pre-shift examination at the Grassy Creek No. 1 mine in Nicholas County five years ago.
Copenhaver also ordered White Buck to certify daily that pre-shift examinations are performed and report to the court quarterly during one year of probation. A second felony charge alleging White Buck falsified records was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Mine operators that fail to perform pre-shift examinations “will be held to account of the full extent of the law,” federal Mine Safety and Health Administration director Richard Stickler said in a statement.
Defense attorney Robert Luskin argued unsuccessfully for a fine in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Among other things, he noted that the crime occurred five years ago, has not been repeated and the mine has a good safety record over that time.
“This is not an instance when a significant fine is necessary to teach an offender a lesson,” Luskin said. “This is a company that takes its responsibility to its miners absolutely seriously.”
Copenhaver, however, noted the offense was a serious one and that White Buck management should have known the mine’s foreman had been performing improper pre-shift examinations for a period of time before he was caught by MSHA.
White Buck has 10 days to appeal the sentence and 20 days to pay the fine – a condition of its probation.
Separately, Copenhaver fined two White Buck employees who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and agreed to testify against the company.
Shift foreman William Edwin Wine, who admitted failing to make adequate pre-shift exams in May and June 2002, was fined $1,000 and placed on probation for a year. Belt foreman Robert Delmas Bennett, who admitted aiding and abetting the willful violating of a mandatory safety standard, was fined $500 and put on probation for a year.
White Buck is but one of several legal problems facing Massey.
The company also faces a shareholder lawsuit, potentially $2.4 billion in fines for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, and an ongoing criminal probe of a fatal fire at a Logan County mine in January 2006.
Massey is the nation’s fourth-largest coal company by revenue. It operates 19 mining complexes in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.
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