Massey Hits U.S. Mine Safety Chief’s Comments on Violations

June 11, 2010

Coal miner Massey Energy Co criticized a U.S. mine safety official’s comments Thursday, saying the process of dealing with safety violations is biased against mining companies.

“We are disappointed in the comments by MSHA (U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration),” it said in a statement.

“The agency has eliminated informal conferences designed to review citations; has criticized operators for filing appeals; and now complains that the appeals process should be stacked in its favor.”

Massey, owner of the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in an explosion April 5, said safety citations are judgment calls “and even the most conscientious inspector can make the wrong judgment.

“Unfortunately…the current administration at MSHA clearly does not want its own conduct reviewed or questioned.”

Massey took aim at comments by MSHA’s Assistant Secretary Joe Main after an oral decision this week by MSHA Review Commission Judge David Barbour, who ruled Massey’s Tiller No. 1 Mine in Virginia cannot be placed on a ‘pattern of violations’ status, which would lead to stricter regulation.

Main said the ruling made clear the need “to reform the broken ‘pattern of violations’ system.” He noted Massey had committed 29 violations at Tiller, but the judge did not find a “pattern” because only 19 were significant and substantial.

“The pattern of violations system was designed to force persistent violators of safety rules to clean up their act,” Main said. “But under the current ‘pattern of violations’ system, no mine has ever been successfully placed into ‘pattern of violations’ status.”

“Even mine operators with serious safety problems can evade ‘pattern of violations’ status. The system is broken and we will fix it,” Main said.

There was no immediate MSHA comment on Massey’s statement.

Massey stock rose $2.22, or 7.78 percent, to close at $30.74 on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday on a day when the DJ Industrial average rose 2.7 percent.

(Reporting by Steve James, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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