The American Coal Company Sues Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for Unlawful Regulation

The American Coal Company Sues Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for Unlawful Regulation

The American Coal Company (American Coal) filed suit against the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for numerous violations of federal law and MSHA’s own regulations in inspections at the company’s Galatia Mining Complex, a complex of three separate mines in Saline County, Illinois.

The suit, filed in the Southern District Court of Illinois, follows a series of complaints by the company to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Labor, the agency that oversees MSHA. In June, American Coal requested the OIG investigate what it considers to be abusive inspection practices at the Galatia Complex.

The subsequent lawsuit cites many of the same practices, specifically that MSHA instructed mine safety inspectors to issue violations based on quotas, failed to notify the company that inspectors were on-premises, and failed to allow company representatives to be present during inspections – all in violation of federal law.

“This action is another step in a plea for relief from what the company believes are not only unfair, but illegal inspection practices that threaten the company’s ability to do business,” said Richard Lieberman, attorney for American Coal. “MSHA has demonstrated a clear pattern of disregard for both the spirit and intent of the law, and there is no other option but to settle this in a court of law.”

Among the allegations in the suit is that MSHA imposed a quota on safety inspectors requiring the issuance of .4 violations per inspection hour, directly contravening the federal Mine Safety Act of 1977.

In addition, the suit alleges that MSHA inspectors illegally entered the New Future Mine – one of three mines at the Galatia Mining Complex – without notifying American Coal managers as required by regulation.

Not only did such action deny company managers the right to accompany inspectors and participate in the inspection, but also violated the mine’s emergency response plan which requires that the company to be able to track all personnel underground in the mine, and which MSHA had approved.

In October, MSHA issued a press release announcing it was fining American Coal nearly $1.5 million for alleged safety violations at the Galatia Complex. The press release, as well as negative statements to the press by MSHA officials, demonstrates a clear pattern of animosity by MSHA toward the company.

“We take the inspection process very seriously, and believe that it should be a cooperative interaction between inspectors and the company, with the goal of furthering employee safety in the mine,” said Lieberman. “However, when the agency repeatedly violates the law and then makes disparaging statements to the press, one has to wonder what their true agenda is.”

Defendants named in the suit include Richard Stickler, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety; Kevin Stricklin, Acting MSHA Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health; as well as the district managers and other inspectors from MSHA’s District 8 office in Vincennes, Indiana, which are responsible for regulating the mines at the Galatia Complex.

American Coal operates three separate longwall mines at the Galatia Complex: the Galatia North Mine, the New Era Mine, and the New Future Mine. The mining complex provides approximately 800 jobs in southern Illinois and produces more than seven million tons of coal annually.

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