MSHA: Contested citations up as enforcement, penalties increase

The number of citations contested by mine operators has jumped significantly since the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 increased enforcement and penalties, witnesses testified Tuesday during a hearing before the House Education and Labor Committee.

MSHA administrator Joseph A. Main testified that the stepped-up enforcement and increased penalties led to a greater number of violations being cited; in turn, the number of cases contested rose to 27 percent in 2009 from 6 percent in 2005. Most of those cases contested the severity of a violation, not whether a violation occurred.

Main said mine safety has improved and led to a record-low in mining deaths. However, Cecil E. Roberts, president of Fairfax, VA-based United Mine Workers of America, testified that the current system rewards operators who contest violations, and said the more than year-long delay in resolving those cases allows operators to avoid steeper penalties for being cited for repeat violations.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission hopes to add eight more administrative law judges in the next two years to assist the current 10 -- each who handle an average of 746 cases, said Mary Lucille Jordan, who chairs the commission.

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