Rep. Miller releases list of ‘dangerous mines’ April 14, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Chunks of coal bearing the names of the miners who died in the explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W. Va. a week ago Monday, appear in a makeshift memorial in Whitesville, W.Va. on Tuesday, April 13, 2010. Recovery teams working before dawn Tuesday finished the grim task of recovering the last of 29 West Virginia miners killed in the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in decades. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

This just in:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, released a list of 48 mines identified by federal mine safety officials in August 2009 for increased scrutiny, but were not targeted due to unresolved appeals filed by mine operators. The list includes the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia where 29 miners lost their lives in an explosion on April 5.

“In the name of deep public interest, today I am releasing information important to the immediate health and safety of our nation’s miners. We owe it to the families of these fallen miners, all mining communities across the country, and the American people to ensure that all relevant information regarding potentially dangerous conditions at mines be made public, especially as investigations into the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine continue. Mine operators who game the system to avoid tough scrutiny by federal safety officials must be held accountable,” said Miller.

Under current law, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration issues a letter to frequent violators warning them that they may be sanctioned under a so-called ‘pattern of violation’. Once a mine is notified that they may be under a pattern of violation, the mine must take immediate actions to reduce future violations – approved by federal mine safety officials – or face drastic sanctions including mine closure for any future significant and substantial violation.

The list released by the committee today are those 48 mines that would have received this notice of a potential pattern of violation sanctions in October 2009 but for contested citations that had not been resolved due to delays caused by the backlog of more than 16,000 operator appeals.

Mines are subject to a pattern of violation sanctions when they meet ten criteria indicating the mine is a habitual violator of mine safety laws. Criteria includes mines that receive at least 20 significant and substantial violations, at least two elevated enforcement actions, and one unwarrantable failure violation over the previous 24 months. These violations must also be fully adjudicated. In addition, mines must have a violation rate that is 25 percent higher than the industry average over the same period.

In February, the committee held a hearing on how these flood of mine owner appeals of violations were undermining efforts to protect miners by delaying tougher sanctions. According to the Department of Labor, once a mine is notified that they may be subject to a pattern of violation sanctions, mines reduced future citations of serious problems by 72 percent.

In addition, MSHA also announced yesterday that a computer error prevented the Upper Big Branch mine from being notified that it could be subject to a potential pattern of violation. As the result of this disclosure, Miller and U.S. Reps. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) asked the Labor Department Inspector General to investigate.

A review of coal mines that were not issued potential pattern of violations (POV) letters during the most recent screening revealed 32 operations that would have met all of the criteria except for the fact that they had contested S&S and/or 104(d) issuances that were still in litigation at the time the screening was performed.

(The 22 mines in West Virginia operated by 12 companies — 15 of these mines operated by 5 companies; there were also 4 mines in KY and 1 mine each in AZ, IL, KS, UT, VA and WY)

4608994 Argus Energy – James H Booth (69 employees)
4608704 Argus Energy – James H Booth (97 employees)
4608735 Independence Coal – Massey Energy (209 employees)
4603755 Independence Coal – Massey Energy (66 employees)
4605437 Speed Mining – Patriot Coal (215 employees)
4609082 Mountain Edge Mining – Douglas M Epling (74 employees)
4609150 Mountain Edge Mining – Douglas M Epling (63 employees)
4609163 Elk Run Coal – Massey Energy (104 employees)
4609048 Marfork Coal – Massey Energy (57 employees)
4609136 Big River Mining – Coalfield Transport (102 employees)
4609101 INR-WV Operating – INR-I Holdings (124 employees)
4608436 Performance Coal – Massey Energy (189 employees)
4609230 Remington – Patriot Coal (66 employees)
4608131 XMV – ArcelorMittal (30 employees)
4609017 XMV – ArcelorMittal (35 employees)
4608845 XMV – ArcelorMittal (35 employees)
4607908 Pine Ridge Coal – Patriot Coal (189 employees)
4607191 Pocahontas Coal – Metinvest B V (69 employees)
4605252 ICG Beckley -International Coal Group (204 employees)
4608715 KWV Operations – Robert Helton (22 employees)
4608570 Rio Group – Richard H Abraham (35 employees)
4608909 Midland Trail Mining (59 employees)

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