It was just this past April fifth that 29 men lost their lives in West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Coal Mine owned by Massey Energy. Their deplorable record for safety highlighted not only by the recent investigations into that explosion and their unwillingness to discuss the issue (When 15 in the company plead the fifth, you know they know they did something wrong...) but by their record for safety at another mine in my state of Kentucky. Here, over a twelve day span, this one mine in Pike county, accumulated over 222 safety violations.
Now the Labor department has done something different to try and get something done with the Pike County Ky Mine. They are asking the courts to close the mine down for the safety of the miners.
I first heard this on my way home this evening on NPR. HERE is the NPR story, and below you can listen to the Audio. Stunning stuff that they can get away with being this irresponsible. From that piece...
...In filing for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court, the government cites persistently dangerous conditions in Massey Energy's Freedom Mine No. 1 in Pike County. The action — the toughest enforcement action available to federal regulators — would shut down the mine until safety hazards are addressed and Massey Energy demonstrates it can operate the mine safely.
The Freedom Mine employs about 130 miners and was cited for safety violations more than 700 times this year alone....
...For 33 years, the agency has had the authority to take mining companies to federal court when they have serious and persistent safety violations. But this "injunctive relief" section of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act has not been invoked until now.
Section 108(a)(2) of that law authorizes the Labor Department to seek restraining orders, preliminary or permanent injunctions and other federal court orders when a mining company "is engaged in a pattern of violation" that "constitutes a continuing hazard to the health or safety of miners."...MORE
Now, to be clear, the piece does say that Massey will have to continue to pay it's miners while the company cleans up the mine for use, or will have to use them elsewhere, so this isn't the government going after their jobs. In fact, from the sounds of the violations that they cited, that place is a ticking time-bomb. Hundreds of "citations" for explosive coal dust sometimes over miles, exposed wires, faulty equipment capable of producing sparks or catching fire, loose coal.
But here is what gets me, and has me fired up to bring it up. They are asking a judge from here in Kentucky to decide the power and scope of this until now unused "injunctive relief" section. Forgive my pessimism but don't expect a judge from coal country to be a lot of help. Or if he decides to reject it, that one more tooth is pulled from an agency that provides oversight to companies that can somehow obtain up to 700 violations before someone says..."Ok, stop now". Think they need to do it, certainly want the MSHA to be able to get it done (quicker...), but don't think an unused law regulating coal will get much help here. We can hope, for these worker's sakes, that it can.