Administrative Law

Mining Companies Stall Tougher Safety Laws with 18K Backlogged Appeals

Since tougher mining safety laws passed in 2006, coal companies are increasingly appealing citations, creating a backlog of 18,000 pending cases.

The 2006 laws gave the federal government new powers to crack down on coal mines with repeated violations, but coal companies have reacted by appealing one out of four citations, the New York Times reports. That is triple the number of appeals filed before the tougher laws.

“The result is a backlog of 18,000 pending appeals and $210 million in contested penalties,” the Times story says.

Massey Energy Company owns the West Virginia mine where at least 25 miners were killed in an explosion on Monday. It received 50 citations for serious safety violations at its mines last year, and appealed at least 37 of them, the story says.

In 2007, the company received a letter warning that the Big Branch mine, where the explosion occurred on Monday, and 19 other mines could be cited for a “pattern of violations,” the New York Times reports in a separate story. The mines escaped added oversight, however, after instituting a safety plan and reducing violations. But violations more than doubled the following year.

At the Big Branch mine, two safety citations were issued on the day of the explosion, the New York Times reports in yet another story. One was for failing to keep maps of escape routes and the other was for failing to insulate electrical cables that were outside the blast area. The story says it’s unclear if the citations were issued before or after the accident.

Two other citations issued on Jan. 7 against the mine were for a faulty air intake system.

Massey’s chief executive, Don Blankenship, spurred a Supreme Court case on judicial recusal after he raised $3 million for a candidate for the state supreme court. The candidate won election and later ruled in a business interference case involving the company. The U.S. Supreme Court required recusal.

Related coverage:

New York Times: “A Mine Boss Inspires Fear, But Pride Too”

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