The mine safety legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), was moving quickly toward a vote in the House by the end of July. Washington insiders believe the tempo will slow with the Senate in the fall, but it will become law. Among other provisions, Miller’s mine safety bill would “revamp” criteria for POV sanctions and give MSHA more authority to close a mine once a POV status has been triggered. The law’s provision will probably make it easier to place a POV status on mining companies and probably weaken the company’s exit strategy. MSHA will determine how tough and, seeing how the initial IG report profiled MSHA, that may not be a good thing. It blames the prior administration for a lot of problems, but the only thing that has changed at the agency is the top guy.

The pendulum is about to swing the other way. Mine operators have been accused of gaming the system by contesting citations. Contested citations in the past were not eligible for POV status, but they created an enormous backlog before the mine safety and health commission. Democrats are going to make it more difficult for companies to delay a reckoning by contesting citations. Can they do that without abridging due process? The biggest concern for mine operators is whether the POV status will be based on what’s written or what’s final. Theoretically, if POV status is based on the citation as written, then the mines are at the mercy of the inspector. The IG report also mentions poorly trained inspectors.

The late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) introduced provisions to the financial reform bill that requires publicly-traded mining companies to disclose MSHA safety violations to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The provision expands the required SEC filings to include safety compliance data already compiled and maintained by MSHA. President Obama is expected to sign the regulatory reform bill. This disclosure will attach yet another stigma to the mining business. Surely that was not Byrd’s intent. Most people will view the Byrd legacy as an amazing political career; a politician that took care of his constituency. Looking at the last year, however, the West Virginia coal miner would probably beg to differ.

What will the coal industry do? Ultimately operating in the safest manner possible is the best way to avoid all of these hassles. Coal Age will continue to report the facts and offer technical solutions, such as the Predictive Compliance software (See Operating Ideas, p. 54). To be successful though, publicly-held mining companies will have to get their house in order and prepare to defend themselves accordingly, especially with activist stockholders.

Steve Fiscor, Coal Age Editor-In-Chief