Mine Safety Skirmishes

Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer has an interesting investigative report on how mine operators fight mine safety penalties imposed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Here’s a taste:

Critics say that in fighting back, mine owners are clogging up the appeals process and wearing down a system that lacks resources to match the challenge. Like a game of Chutes and Ladders, the process plays out year after year: federal inspectors cite a mine, the agency proposes fines, the mine owner appeals and gets many of the fines reduced — and the process repeats itself anew. It raises questions about how sensible and effective the mine-safety system is.

But the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, defends the system, saying inspections and citations, regardless of how the fines are resolved, create safer mines. MSHA is a division of the Department of Labor.

For their part, mine owners and representatives say they just are exercising their legal rights.

The story also notes a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit challenging a new MSHA rule that would allow the agency to base penalties on all serious citations issued to a mine operator in the preceding year, even those that are contested (and that could be subsequently overturned).