Union Accuses Gov't in Mine Blast
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Yahoo! News - Union Accuses Gov't in Mine Blast Union Accuses Gov't in Mine Blast
Fri Apr 5, 8:22 PM ET
By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A coal miner's union has accused the government of major regulatory lapses at an Alabama mine where an explosion killed 13 workers and at mines nationwide.
In a March letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the United Mine Workers of America stopped short of blaming the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration for the deaths last fall at Jim Walter Resources Inc.'s Blue Creek No. 5 mine.
But the union accused the agency of repeatedly letting miners' concerns go unchecked, hiring company managers as inspectors and backing off enforcement.
In a response letter dated March 27, administrator Dave Lauriski defended regulators but did not address specific conditions that led to the deadly explosion in Alabama, which is still under investigation.
"The agency has no intention of stopping or curtailing enforcement," Lauriski wrote to the union.
Both letters were obtained by AP under the Freedom of Information Act.
Rocks fell from a mine roof in the Sept. 23 incident, striking a battery charger and causing sparks that ignited methane gas. Several people were injured. As a crew tried to reach them, a subsequent, larger blast killed 13.
The union's letter said the agency regularly described major violations as minor infractions and didn't follow up to see if problems were fixed. Without giving names, the union also said the agency hired mine managers as inspectors and gave them advance notice of inspections.
U.S. coal mining deaths have increased in each of the last three years, the union said, but the government "has backed off enforcement of health and safety laws."
MSHA spokeswoman Kathy Snyder said any implication that the agency relaxed enforcement is not true.
"For one thing, it is based on the idea that a decrease in the number and seriousness of citations is a bad sign," she said in a faxed statement. "However, if conditions in the mines are improving, we would expect the number of violations to decrease."
The No. 5 mine, located west of Birmingham in Brookwood, has since reopened.