The Labor Department’s unprecedented use of its toughest mine safety enforcement tool against Massey Energy has paid off as the company agreed Wednesday to a court-supervised settlement of alleged safety violations at a coal mine in Kentucky.
The government’s case, filed in November, alleged that Massey’s Freedom Mine #1 in Pike County, Ky., required court supervision because of the “continuing hazard” the mine presented to the safety of workers. It was the first time that the Labor Department sought federal court intervention for mines considered chronically dangerous despite having that option under the Mine Safety and Health Act for 33 years.
Massey previously announced it will close the mine, apparently in response to the government suit. As part of the settlement, it also must implement safety measures to protect about 60 workers who will dismantle and remove equipment from the mine.
“We felt the best course of action was to cooperate with MSHA [the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration] and jointly develop a plan for our coal miners to safely close the Freedom Energy mine,” Shane Harvey, Massey’s vice president and general counsel, told NPR.
Government and Massey attorneys announced the settlement as a court hearing was about to begin that, NPR said, would have focused on production pressures at the company. It was expected to include internal Massey documents and testimony from former Massey mine workers and officials.
Mine safety experts are hoping the Freedom #1 case will encourage the Labor Department to use the enforcement tool against chronic safety violators.
A blast at Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia last April, which killed 29 miners, remains the subject of criminal and civil investigations. It was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.