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No Talks Before Civil Penalties Proposed, MSHA Says

A new policy has been implemented by MSHA that clarifies how settlement conferences are scheduled between cited mine operators and MSHA personnel. Saying the policy improves efficiency for MSHA, the agency now will schedule a conference after civil penalties have been proposed and the operator has filed a notice that it intends to contest the penalties or the cited violations. In addition, specially trained conference and litigation representatives will have primary responsibility for resolving the contested violations and their associated penalties at the same time.

"This procedural change will greatly increase efficiency in our system," Michael A. Davis, MSHA's deputy assistant secretary for operations, said in a news release. "We consider this a positive change to address the increased number of contested cases."

The agency said it made the change because the number of contested enforcement actions has increased more than sixfold in the past three years. In 2005, only 7,000 of the 117,000 citations issued by MSHA inspectors were contested.

The agency issued a March 27 Procedure Instruction Letter informing MSHA personnel who conduct and manage enforcement conferences about the change.

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