On Wednesday, the US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) filed an unprecedented federal lawsuit seeking to shut down a mine operated by the troubled coal mining company Massey Energy for continually violating safety laws.
The Labor Department has been targeting mines with poor safety records since a blast killed 29 miners at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5. The explosion was the deadliest at a US coal mine in four decades and is the subject of criminal and civil investigations.
The lawsuit seeks to shut down Massey subsidiary Freedom Energy’s Mine No. 1 in Pike County, Kentucky until the company corrects the violations and comes up with a way to prevent them in the future. The suit asks that the workers continue to be paid while the mine is offline.
“We’re not just looking at the injury rates, especially in this situation. My understanding is that Massey reported to its own shareholders that it underreports injury rates by approximately 37%,” said Patricia Smith, the Labor Department’s solicitor.
“MSHA has attempted to reason with the operator,” David Ison, a regional MSHA official, penned in one document filed with the lawsuit. “The conditions at this mine are the result of a total disregard for basic mine maintenance and safety.”
“It is my belief that the levels of methane that occurred on February 4, 2010 may occur at any time in this mine if the operator does not pay close attention to ventilation issues,” MSHA official Stevie Justice penned in another document. “If the methane reaches explosive levels, even occasionally, there is grave risk of an explosion to the miners working at the mine.”
“All of the conditions regularly cited by MSHA at Freedom Energy are of the type that result in fatal accidents,” MSHA official Danny Deel penned in another document.
Although Smith estimated that Massey could fix the mine in a matter of weeks, she added “that [it] really depends upon how much cooperation we get.”
Source: The Associated Press