Safety Agency Dropped 7 West Virginia Mines from Violator List

July 1, 2010

Plans to crack down on seven West Virginia coal mines with a history of excessive health and safety violations were dropped because of a lack of money, the industry’s chief federal regulator said this week.

The West Virginia mines are among nine across the country that were being considered for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s pattern of violations program. Two others were not named because of ongoing inspections.

The agency provided the names to the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, which released the list. MSHA’s pattern of violations program has drawn congressional scrutiny since the agency acknowledged that Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine was dropped from consideration because of a computer error.

An explosion at the southern West Virginia mine killed 29 men April 5 _ the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in 40 years. The explosion is the subject of ongoing civil and criminal investigations.

Massey’s Black Castle surface mine was among the seven that MSHA dropped. The southern West Virginia surface mine employs about 250 people and produced about 2.7 million tons of coal last year.

Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater declined to comment.

Also dropped from consideration was a northern West Virginia mine run by Scott Depot-based International Coal Group’s Sentinel Mine and five privately held mines. The Sentinel Mine, an underground operation in Barbour County, employs about 260 people and produced more than 1.3 million tons of coal in 2009.

ICG said the mine “does not merit, and has not merited, listing for a pattern of violation” in a statement.

“While the mine experienced disappointing compliance performance in 2008, the company addressed all issues promptly to bring about quick improvement in compliance and incidence rates,” ICG said. The mine improved its performance last year and so far this year, the statement said.

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