An administrative law judge has ordered two major coal producers to turn over to federal regulators information about mine accidents as well as about their workers’ job-related injuries and illnesses, the Associated Press reports.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Massey Energy Co. and Peabody Energy Corp. had refused to provide information needed to determine if mines that they operate in five states should be subject to tougher enforcement because of persistent safety violations. If the agency finds that an operator has had persistent violations, it can stop production and remove miners when inspectors identify serious new problems.
The two companies’ unwillingness to turn over all of the requested records “has unnecessarily delayed MSHA’s review … for seven of these mines,” MSHA director Joe Main said in a news release. “Mine operators should be aware that we are not going to rely on what they report to make such critical determinations. We will check those records ourselves.”
Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said that the company is considering an appeal, adding that it has provided MSHA with everything the agency has requested except employees’ medical records.
“Our miners have a right to privacy and we respectfully opposed providing private medical information,” Gillenwater said.
Peabody issued a statement expressing alarm that MSHA could demand to review private medical records. The company said it is evaluating its legal options.
Kenneth Andrews, an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, rejected an argument made by Peabody that it could withhold “sensitive and private” records. He ruled that MSHA’s request was a “reasonable exercise of government responsibility” and that the agency’s interest in improving mine safety outweighs the privacy concerns.
The judge’s action was not related to Massey’s operation of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, which last year was the site of the deadliest U.S. mining accident in four decades.