Mine safety

MSHA

A new federal government report shows that mines that changed ownership had worse safety records than mines where ownership did not change. According to an audit from the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, mines that changed ownership during a 17-year period were nearly twice as likely to have safety violations, and five times as likely to report severe accidents in the same period. 

Mines that changed hands had on average 134 safety violations, compared with 43 safety violations at mines that did not change hands.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet

Search and recovery efforts have been suspended for a worker involved in an explosion at a Muhlenberg County mine. 

Richard Knapp is presumed dead following the blast last week at the Paradise Mine in Bremen.  He was a 62-year-old welder and iron worker from West Frankfort, Illinois. 

John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, told WKU Public Radio that crews worked for two days to lower the methane levels so a camera could be dropped into the mine.

West Virginia Governor’s Office

Coal companies controlled by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice have agreed to a settlement covering millions of dollars in overdue property taxes in four eastern Kentucky counties: Harlan, Knott, Magoffin, and Pike.

Checks totaling $1.2 million from Justice entities began rolling in last week, county officials said. According to state officials, the checks cover half the delinquent debt owed. Counties will receive the remaining amount in payments over the next six months.


West Virginia Governor’s Office

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against 23 coal companies owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, seeking more than $4.7 million in unpaid fines and fees for mine safety and health violations.

The delinquent fines were brought to light by investigations by NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource as the Justice companies’ overdue debts ballooned from just under $2 million in 2014 to more than $4 million in 2018.


Mine Safety Debt For WV Gov. Justice’s Family Companies Grows to $4M

Apr 8, 2019
West Virginia Governor's office

An Ohio Valley ReSource analysis of federal mine safety data shows that the companies belonging to the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice owe $4.3 million in delinquent debt for mine safety violations. That is far more than the companies owed when Justice ran for governor in 2016, when he pledged to make good on such debts.

The Justice companies still have the highest delinquent mine safety debt in the U.S. mining industry.

Unpaid mine safety violations have been a chronic problem for the Justice companies. In 2014, an NPR investigation showed Justice companies owed just under $2 million in delinquent federal mine safety penalties, which are levied by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA

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MSHA

The United Mine Workers of America is suing the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, after the agency reduced its heightened oversight of a West Virginia coal mine with a poor safety record.

MSHA has the power to declare mines with a history of significant safety violations as having a “Pattern of Violations.” Known as “POV status,” the declaration is an enforcement tool that allows the agency to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with repeated safety issues.

Wikimedia Commons

A board that was ostensibly responsible for reviewing coal miners’ training and reviewing all proposed coal mine safety regulations will hold its last meeting next week.

The Kentucky Mining Board consisted of eight members — three from labor, three representing coal industry management, one citizen and one state regulator. In pushing for the board to be abolished, the state Energy and Environment Cabinet said its responsibilities were duplicated, and would be distributed among other agencies and commissions. But mine safety advocates worry the move will end up harming the state’s approximately 6,000 remaining coal miners.

The Kentucky Mining Board has been in existence for decades, but was reorganized by Gov. Paul Patton in 2001. It was abolished by a bill that passed the legislature earlier this year, with little discussion or fanfare. The bill flew under the radar — so much so that board members weren’t aware the board had been dismantled until receiving a letter last week.

Ashton Marra, WVPB

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is scheduled to be released from an Arizona halfway house on Wednesday after serving a year in federal prison.

Blankenship was found guilty of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards in December, 2015, after a federal investigation of the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia. An explosion at the mine in April, 2010, killed 29 men.

The U.S. Attorney argued that the explosion was the result of a conspiracy under Blankenship’s leadership to shirk safety laws in order to increase production and profits.

US Geological Survey, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

After a federal Court of Appeals rejected an industry-led challenge last month, a new federal rule to reduce coal miners’ exposure to dangerous dust goes into effect Monday.

In 2009, the Mine Safety and Health Administration began a campaign to end black lung disease, which is caused by breathing in large amounts of coal dust. The disease was in decline for decades but has experienced a recent resurgence.

“This disease is far from over,” MSHA Secretary Joe Main said. “Miners have suffered, families have suffered from this disease, and the time has come to fix this problem. And implementation of this rule will help us get there.”

Part of MSHA’s campaign includes federal rules to keep better track of the coal dust to which miners are exposed. Companies now have to take more dust samples, as well as sample for an entire shift. Over the next few months, coal miners working in the jobs with the most dust will have to wear small continuous personal dust monitors.

Coal Miner Killed On Job In Union County

Dec 16, 2014

State officials say a coal miner has died after being struck by a coal-hauling car at an underground mine in western Kentucky.

The Kentucky Division of Mine Safety has identified the miner as 34-year-old Eli Eldridge of Sturgis.

It was just the second mining fatality in the state this year.

Eldridge was hit by a ram car, a long flat motorized car that hauls coal to the feeder. The accident occurred Tuesday at the Patriot Coal Company Highland No. 9 mine near Waverly around 11 a.m. CST.

The first Kentucky fatality occurred Oct. 8 at a surface mine in Bell County.

flickr/Creative Commons

A slash to Governor Steve Beshear’s proposal for mine safety in the Kentucky House budget bill passed this month has many safety advocates concerned. They say there might not be enough money to conduct required inspections.

Gov. Beshear has proposed $7.6 million in each of the next two years for the state program that inspects and licenses coal mines. But when the budget bill was passed by the House, Beshear’s budget office noticed the number had been reduced to $5.3 million per year.

The Courier-Journal reports the 15 percent reduction was not discussed during the budget committee meeting or floor session when the bill was passed. In response, Gov. Beshear says his administration is “very concerned about the lack of sufficient funds to ensure safety” for miners, and the House and Senate will work together to ensure the funding is there “to cover critical needs in the agency.”

An audit of the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows it's implemented more than half the 100 internal changes recommended after a 2010 explosion killed 29 West Virginia coal miners.

The Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General says MSHA's efforts to address its own shortcomings began well before an internal review report was released in March of 2012.

flickr/Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Labor has approved new rules it says will improve safety at the nation's most dangerous coal mines by revising the way operators are designated pattern violators.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said they improve the Mine Safety and Health Administration's ability to hold mine operators accountable for disregarding life saving safety measures. MSHA chief Joe Main says they're long overdue and could prevent 1,800 injuries over ten years.

The changes were proposed after the Upper Big Branch mine exploded in April 2010, killing 29 men.