Murray Energy appeals new MSHA ‘pattern of violations’ rule

Murray Energy and related companies, controlled by Ohio-based coal operator Robert Murray, filed a March 20 notice with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that they are contesting a new U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration rule.

The appeal is from Murray Energy, Ohio American Energy, American Energy, The Ohio Valley Coal Co., and KenAmerican Resources. Murray Energy operates deep mines, some of them longwall-equipped, in Ohio, western Kentucky, Illinois and Utah.

The March 20 notice said the appeal is of a final rule issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Secretary of Labor entitled “Pattern of Violations” published on Jan. 23 in the Federal Register. The rule basically establishes tighter standards under a program that MSHA has increasingly used lately. The agency can issue a “pattern of violations” finding against a mine it considers to be particularly sub-standard in terms of safety compliance, which then triggers a tougher enforcement regime for that operation.

The notice of appeal had no details on what the companies will argue in this case. The court has set a May 2 deadline for the companies to file their initial brief, with MSHA to file its initial brief by June 4.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who oversees MSHA, said Jan. 17 that this new rule will ensure that mine operators monitor and address the most hazardous safety problems in their mines. It also strengthens MSHA’s hand to respond to dangerous mining conditions, and improve safety and health for mining’s most important resource – the miner.

“The tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine should not be forgotten,” said Solis, referring to an April 2010 explosion at a West Virginia mine that killed 29 workers. “It exacted a terrible toll on the nation, coal miners’ families and coal companies. Over the last three years, the Labor Department has undergone a serious and comprehensive evaluation of mine safety practices, and that has led to reforms to protect America’s miners. The rule we are announcing today will hold mine operators accountable when they disregard life-saving safety measures.”

“This final rule represents one of MSHA’s highest priority regulatory initiatives and one that addresses Congress’ intent that this regulation encourage chronic violators to comply with the Mine Act and MSHA’s health and safety standards,” said MSHA head Joseph Main. “We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine. It promotes consistency in applying the POV notice as an enforcement tool, provides for a more open and transparent process, emphasizes operators’ responsibility to comply with safety and health standards and monitor their own compliance, and more effectively achieves the statutory intent of the Mine Act.”

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.