Armstrong Coal sues MSHA over its authority to inspect a shop

Armstrong Coal and its Armstrong Fabricators affiliate have sued the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, claiming that MSHA has improperly tried to assert its inspection authority at an Armstrong Fabricators shop located at the Parkway coal mine in Muhlenberg County, Ky.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 4 at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Armstrong Fabricators began operating the fabricator shop in July 2009 and there was no attempt by MSHA to inspect the shop until February of this year, the lawsuit said. The shop has never had an MSHA mine ID number and the agency has never asked that it get one, the lawsuit added.

MSHA showed up to inspect the shop on Feb. 23, but left without doing one. Then it showed up again on Feb. 28, apparently based on an anonymous tip about supposedly unsafe conditions, the lawsuit said. The company said it let MSHA conduct the Feb. 28 inspection, under protest, and no unsafe conditions were found.

Armstrong Fabricators abandoned the shop on Aug. 12, moving assets from the shop to other locations. Then an MSHA inspector showed up on Aug. 28 to inspect the closed shop. The inspector said if he wasn’t allowed to inspect the shop, he would issue an order shutting the shop and also the nearby Parkway mine, the lawsuit said. So he was allowed to do the inspection, again under protest, and the inspector then issued 24 citations about alleged unsafe conditions at the shop.

But, the citations were written against Armstrong Coal, not against Armstrong Fabricators, and were issued under the MSHA ID for the Parkway mine, the lawsuit noted. That means that any failure to abate the alleged violations would rebound on the mine and its operations, the company said. The citations mostly had to do with allegedly deficient shop wiring and a failure to properly store compressed gas cylinders. Under mining law, Armstrong said it couldn’t get a hearing fast enough on many of these citations, or fix the supposed shop problems fast enough, to avoid a possible shutdown of Parkway and its surface support facilities, endangering nearly 200 jobs at these operations.

The lawsuit said that mine law, in this case, does not afford the company due process rights and the ability to be free of “undue” regulatory oversight, and that MSHA has trespassed on property for which it has no jurisdiction. It wants the court to enjoin MSHA from violating those due process rights and to find that the shop is not under MSHA oversight.

Armstrong Coal, which plans to go public in an IPO under Amstrong Energy, is a major producer with multiple coal mines in western Kentucky. MSHA data shows the Parkway deep mine produced 797,523 tons in the first half of this year and over 1.4 million tons in all of 2011.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.