10:26am

Mon October 17, 2011
Statehouse News

Kentucky Coal Mine Under Federal Scrutiny

A Kentucky coal mine is now under extra scrutiny after it became the fourth to be recently placed on a ‘potential pattern of violations’ status by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. If the mine operator doesn’t rectify the problems, the mine can be shut down when serious violations are discovered. But this process is one that mine safety advocates would like to change.

Issuing a ‘potential pattern of violations’ status is a precursor to the more serious ‘pattern of violations’ status. But some safety advocates would like to see it eliminated.

Wes Addington is the Deputy Director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg. He says under its current regulations, MSHA has to give companies a warning, but he thinks it goes against what the law originally intended.

Addington supports a rule that MSHA proposed earlier this year that does away with the ‘potential’ pattern of violations process.

“If that’s finalized by MSHA, they no longer would have to issue these, what I call a warning letter,” he said. “Basically if a company is one of the worst violators, then they’re going to be placed on a pattern without going through this sort of hand holding warning process.”

Addington says another area for reform is a practice that requires violations to be finalized before they can count against a mine operator. Because mines often appeal violations, it can sometimes take years for the violations to appear on their record.

“Speeding tickets when you’re driving 100 miles an hour over the speed limit or you’re racking up DUIs, a judge doesn’t have to wait until all of those charges are through the system before he acts proactively and stops you from driving,” he said.

Addington estimates there are 17,000 cases backlogged because of the appeals process.

MSHA’s finalized rule is expected in the next few months.