Federal regulators allow coal companies to go years without paying fines for mine safety violations, a Kentucky lawyer who represents coal miners has found.Wes Addington is a lawyer with the Mine Safety Project at the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Prestonsburg, Ky. He represents coal miners who allege they have suffered discrimination at the workplace after complaining about unsafe conditions in the mines.On Thursday, Addington released a study he did of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration fines issued to coal companies in Kentucky.Addington said he found that “MSHA has allowed mines to operate unimpeded for years while accumulating millions of dollars in unpaid fines.”Of Kentucky’s nearly 300 active underground mines, nearly one-third have years in which they paid little to none of the fines MSHA imposed, Addington found.Since 1995, these mines have accumulated more than $4.1 million in unpaid fines for more than 18,000 citations, Addington said.Fourteen mines have paid only 10 to 35 percent of MSHA’s penalties. Thirty mines have paid less than 10 percent, and the remaining 53 have paid nothing, Addington said.
Addington issued his report in response to statements earlier this week by acting MSHA chief David G. Dye. On Monday, Dye told a Senate subcommittee that his agency has an “aggressive enforcement record.”Dye said during the hearing that, from 2000 to 2005, total citations and orders at coal mines increased by 18 percent and “significant and substantial” citations and orders increased by 11 percent.Addington said, “Issuing citations is only half of the enforcement procedure under federal law.“In order to tout an ‘aggressive enforcement record,’ MSHA must collect fines on unpaid citations.”Dirk Fillpot, an MSHA spokesman, declined to respond to Addington’s study.To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.