MSHA's Contested Case Backlog Fell 25 Percent in 2011

In a speech summarizing activities during 2011, Assistant Secretary Joe Main said the backlog went below 67,000 cases in December. He said coal mining operations have increased since the Upper Big Branch tragedy in April 2010, proving enforcement hasn't inhibited the industry's growth.

MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main summed up his agency's 2011 activities in a Feb. 2 speech at the West Virginia Coal Association's 39th Annual Mining Symposium in Charleston, covering enforcement activity, training of MSHA personnel, and the data on fatalities for the year -- 37, according to preliminary data, which is the second-lowest number since statistics have been recorded, he said in the transcript posted at www.msha.gov.

MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe MainAlthough it occurred in April 2010, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion figured prominently in Main's remarks. It occurred in West Virginia, killed 29 miners, and resulted in a record MSHA fine as part of a $209 million settlement in late 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources, which had purchased the UBB mine's owner, Massey Energy, for more than $8 billion after the explosion.

Since the explosion, the number of underground coal mines rose by nearly 6 percent and the number of mining units by nearly 9 percent, so MSHA enforcement has not stifled the industry's growth, Main said. Mine safety in the United States is improving, he said.

"Preliminary data shows that the number of citations and orders issued by MSHA in all mining ... was 157,894 in 2011, down from 171,373 in 2010. Citations and orders issued at underground coal mines [were] 76,732 in 2011, down from 80,079 in 2010," he said.

He said both metal/nonmetal and coal field supervisors have completed the initial training Main initiated when he came aboard two years ago and discovered many highly experienced inspectors had retired, and 55 percent of coal mine inspectors and 38 percent of metal/nonmetal inspectors had been conducting inspections for two years or less.

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