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Massey Energy has received more than 80 citations for safety violations from federal investigators. The citations account for roughly half of those issued following special inspections in five states last month.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Massey not only bore the brunt of the inspections, the company inspired them, too.
The agency [MSHA] started the so-called impact inspections after 29 miners were killed in an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5, 2010.
Four Massey mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky accounted for more than half the violations issued nationally during the impact inspections. The MSHA also cited mines in Alabama and Pennsylvania.
A spokesman for Massey, of Richmond, Va., said the company is working to improve safety. Massey is being bought by Alpha Natural Resources Inc.
The first indictment has been issued in a criminal probe into last year’s explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine that left 29 coal miners dead.
The mine’s Chief of Security Hughie Stover has been accused of lying to investigators and trying to destroy mine records, reports the Charleston Gazette.
Stover is accused of falsely telling federal agents in January 2011 that Massey’s Performance Coal Co. had a policy dating back to 1999 that forbade security guards from giving advance notice of inspections. The indictment alleges that Stover “had himself directed and trained security guards … to give advance notice by announcing the presence of an MSHA inspector over” the mine radio.
A federal judge has determined that the widows of two men who died in a mine fire in West Virginia five years ago cannot hold federal mine inspectors responsible for the deaths.
The ruling comes in spite of an internal review that found the inspectors culpable.
U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver accepted that “stinging assessment,” as he called it, but still dismissed the lawsuit Bragg and Hatfield filed against MSHA officials.
Copenhaver said he couldn’t “impose a legal duty” on MSHA and its inspectors and managers because that “would directly conflict with Congress’ decision to place the primary responsibility for mine safety on mine operators.”
Safety measures for coal mines may cost money, but so does poor safety. Massey Energy (soon to be sold to Alpha Natural Resources) took a net loss of $166.6 million last year. The company made more than $100 million in profits last year, and had higher revenues last year.
The April explosion focused attention on the company’s record of safety violations and drew intense scrutiny from federal mine safety regulators. Massey has cited the increased oversight, an ongoing mine disaster investigation and resulting production declines as reasons for its losses. The company also blamed its lower productivity on difficulty in finding enough mine workers.
In the last quarter of 2010 alone, the company’s losses totaled $70.1 million.
United Mine Workers of American president Cecil Roberts has generally positive things to say about Alpha Natural Resources’s move to purchase the troubled Massey Energy.
In a post on the UMWA website, Roberts says Alpha does not have a perfect safety record, but the record is better than Massey’s. Roberts goes on to say Alpha will inherit Massey’s problems (mine closures due to poor safety and the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster), but he seems optimistic the company’s purchase will be a net gain for miners.
A new paper by Emory economist Sara Markowitz finds that “laws regulating indoor smoking are associated with increases in some types of fires. Specifically, workplace restrictions and bans are associated with increases in fires in all locations and in residential units. Restaurant and bar bans are associated with increases in fires in restaurants and all eating/drinking establishments.”
Louisville’s fire deaths have decreased since the smoking ban took effect, and it seems unlikely the two are related. Actual fires, though, may tell a different story.
California may become the first state to limit the amount of chromium VI in drinking water. The proposed safe level of the carcinogen would be .06 parts per billion. As LEO reports, Louisville does not meet that standard, even though the water will soon be in line with new federal regulations.
Louisville ranks 22nd out of 25 communities whose drinking water contains unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, aka chromium VI (aka a major plot element in “Erin Brockovich“).
Today marks the release of a new study conducted by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), marking the first time such a study involving tap water contamination of chromium six has been made public.
Despite unusual bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and a strong push from the Obama administration, the bill could still die because there might not be enough time for the usual haggling between the Senate and House of Representatives, which passed its own version last year. Top House Democrats said that they would consider simply passing the Senate version to speed approval.
Both versions of the bill would grant the F.D.A. new powers to recall tainted foods, increase inspections, demand accountability from food companies and oversee farming. But neither version would consolidate overlapping functions at the Department of Agriculture and nearly a dozen other federal agencies that oversee various aspects of food safety, making coordination among the agencies a continuing challenge.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a batch of citations Friday. Thirteen mines were cited for safety violations, but one mine has been the most consistently cited. That mine is in Kentucky.
The most problematic of the nation’s 14,500 mines in the past year has been Left Fork Mining Co.’s Straight Creek No. 1 Mine in Bell County, Ky. MSHA has ordered it to close 92 times between Nov. 1, 2009, and Oct. 31, 2010.
Inspectors seem to have hope that citations can curb violations.
“One of the lessons we’ve learned is that business as usual won’t change the behavior of mine operators who game the system and refuse to take seriously their responsibility for miners’ safety and health,” said agency chief Joe Main. “This has been a wake-up call for even the most resistant mine operators.”
The owner of the bicycle soup delivery business SoupByCycle was injured Wednesday. He was stopped at an intersection when he was hit by a car.
“It wasn’t just a tap,” Ritchie said.
According to Ritchie, the driver rolled down her window to ask if he was all right. “I said, ‘No, not really,’ ” he recalled. Ritchie asked the driver for her insurance information.
“The next thing I knew, she was going around me,” he said.
Noting the driver’s license plate number, Ritchie reported the incident to Louisville Metro Police. An LMPD spokesperson said that police would try to get in touch with the owner of the car on Thursday.
Ritchie says he can’t ride for a week, and there is no one to fill in for him at his business.