Temporary Restraining Order Granted Against Pike County Coal Mine

by Erica Peterson on July 8, 2011

A federal court has issued a temporary restraining order against a Pike County mine. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration alleges the mine operator was giving advance warning to miners of impending inspections, which is illegal. When miners have advance notice, they can quickly rectify unsafe conditions to pass inspection.

That’s what MSHA says happened in June, when it responded to complaints of men smoking underground at CAM Mining’s Mine No. 28 in Pike County. Now a federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring the mine operator from giving advance notice of inspection.

Lexington mine safety attorney and former regulator Tony Oppegard says involving the federal courts increases the severity of the punishment

“Believe me, a company’s going to be a lot more leery of violating a federal court order than they are going to be of violating a safety standard that MSHA has promulgated and is in the mine safety law,” he said.

Oppegard says it’s clear that MSHA chief Joe Main is trying to send mine operators a message.

“And if we come to a mine, we blitz your mine, we have the right to go underground without anyone knowing that we’re coming,” he said. “And if you interfere with that right, you’re going to have to pay the consequences.”

This isn’t the first time MSHA has sought a court order to compel mine operators to follow the law, but it’s still fairly rare. Ever since the explosion last year at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, MSHA has been targeting mines with spotty safety records for inspections.

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