MSHA announces ‘100 percent’ plan

From The Onion? No.  MSHA (seriously) just announced “a new initiative to complete 100 percent of mandated regular inspections of all coal mines in the country.”  Huh?  A “new initiative” to do something that you are already required by statute to do?

Perhaps the Secretary of Labor Chao and Asst. Secretary Richard Stickler are a little irked at Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette for publishing a number of stories in recent weeks, documenting that MSHA has failed to conduct its required inspections.  Two of the stories (here and here) followed accidents in which coal miners were fatally injured, and Ward’s inquiries uncovered that MSHA had not conducted its required inspections at these mining operations.  The fatality victims were Mr. Brent Reynolds, 35 at a Mingo County, WV mine, and the other was Mr. Robert D. Fraley, 53 at a Logan County, WV mine. 

Then, this week, Ken Ward wrote that in some MSHA districts, such as southern WV and the region west of the Mississippi (the MSHA district responsible for the Crandall Canyon mine) the agency this year has only completed about 60% of its mandatory inspections.  [Under the Mine Act, MSHA is required to inspect every underground coal, metal or non-metal mine four times per year, and every surface mine two times per year.]

In MSHA’s news release, the agency (cleverly) provides data on coal mine inspections for the years 2000-2006, but does not offer data for 2007.  The news release notes “fiscal year 2007 data are not yet available.”  (The fiscal year ended on September 30.)  Well surely, the agency has data at least for the first three quarters of 2007, right?   I fear that data was not released today because it will confirm what the Charleston Gazette has already reported: one of the fundamental promises to miners in the Mine Act—mandatory wall-to-wall inspections—is not being kept, and the completion rate is far less than the agency wants to quantify.