October 10, 2008

Utah Mine Owner Fined Over More Safety Violations

By Tim Huber

A coal company belonging to Bob Murray, the mine owner who entered the national spotlight last year when nine people died in a Utah mine, was fined $1.46 million Wednesday by federal regulators for safety violations at an Illinois operation.

Murray Energy's Galatia Mine in southern Illinois repeatedly ignored safety regulations between September 2007 and January, leading to nine citations for flagrant violations, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said. Galatia is operated by Murray subsidiary American Coal Co.

"American Coal Co. repeatedly demonstrated its failure to comply with basic safety laws over a number of months," MSHA Director Richard Stickler said in a statement.

Murray blasted MSHA, calling the fines politically motivated retaliation for the company's decision to ask the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the agency's actions at Galatia.

"The company has documented numerous incidences in its complaint to the inspector general that MSHA has violated its own regulations and 'made up the rules as they see fit,'" Murray said in a statement.

Murray said it is contesting the fines, which it called "one more example of MSHA trying to rehabilitate its own public image at the expense of mining companies and business."

MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said in a prepared statement Wednesday night that the agency "stands strongly behind the violations issued but, the American Coal Company, like all mine operators, is certainly within its rights to contest any violation it receives. If the disagreement can't be resolved, the mine operator is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission."

Ohio-based Murray also owns the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah, where six miners and three would-be rescuers were killed by cave- ins in August 2007. MSHA fined Murray $1.6 million for violations that investigators determined directly contributed to the deaths of the six miners. It also asked federal prosecutors to consider criminal charges.

Inspectors found numerous problems at the Galatia Mine, including pre-shift safety inspections that missed crumbling roof material and the accumulation of combustible materials, MSHA said.

In another instance, an inspector watched as a maintenance supervisor reached into an energized 480-volt electrical panel, saying he was "taking a shortcut," MSHA said. That violation led to a $161,800 fine for failing to de-energize the panel first.

Originally published by The Associated Press.

(c) 2008 Charleston Gazette, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.