Refuge Chamber Training Rule Remanded to MSHA

The United Mine Workers of America said annual hands-on training of underground miners to activate and use refuge chambers during emergencies is not enough, and a federal appeals court has told MSHA to explain why it did not require quarterly training.

A federal appeals court on Oct. 26 told MSHA to explain the training requirement in its December 2008 final rule mandating refuge chambers in underground coal mines for use in emergencies and training of miners to use them. The United Mine Workers of America said annual hands-on training is not enough, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted the union's petition, saying MSHA must explain why it did not require quarterly training.

Circuit Judge Judith Rogers wrote the opinion, which says in part, "these [training] requirements are nonetheless arbitrary and capricious because MSHA has not explained the basis for them other than to state it relied upon its 'knowledge and expertise.' A conclusory statement is inadequate when expert evidence in the rulemaking record indicated why quarterly hands-on training was necessary and MSHA itself had identified problems of skill degradation." The rule requires quarterly drills but annual training.

The UMWA also challenged the final rule's requirement for the size of these refuge chambers. The rule says they must provide 60 cubic feet per miner but includes a sliding scale based on the height of each mine; chambers in mines ranging from 36 inches to 54 inches high can provide only 30 cubic feet per miner.

The panel denied this challenge, saying the final rule was a logical outgrowth of the proposed rule on which parties had sufficient notice and opportunity to comment.

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