Judge Cuts Fines Against ICG for Deadly Sago Mine Blast in 2006

October 12, 2010

An administrative law judge has reduced some of the fines levied against International Coal Group Inc. for the 2006 Sago Mine explosion that killed 12 men and downgraded some violations the Mine Safety and Health Administration called “unwarrantable failures.”

The ruling by Jerold Feldman at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Commission reflects a settlement between MSHA and ICG subsidiary Wolf Run Mining Co., which operated the mine near Buckhannon.

The Charleston Gazette reported that Feldman slashed fines for 13 violations almost in half last month, from just under $134,000 to $71,800. He also vacated four MSHA violations and removed the “unwarrantable failure” designation from five others.

Feldman also reduced fines for Wolf Run’s delays in reporting the blast and summoning mine-rescue teams, declaring the judgment calls made by employees in crisis understandable.

He noted that the accident occurred Jan. 2, the observance of New Year’s Day, when state and federal offices were closed, and coal company officials themselves were hard to reach.

Those fines were reduced from $14,500 to $11,000 — for a total penalty of $82,800.

Mine operators were not trying to avoid notification, Feldman wrote. Rather, Wolf Run was “conflicted over its concern for evacuating survivors, its preoccupation with establishing contact with the missing victims, and its responsibility to notify MSHA.”

MSHA’s fine “fails to distinguish between imprudent or ill-advised conduct, and aggravated or unjustified conduct,” he wrote.

Risking their own lives to try to rescue trapped victims instead of giving up their ability to go underground by calling MSHA, “given the circumstances in this case,” the judge wrote, “is understandable, if not admirable.”

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