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Massey and mine agency fight over company’s safety record

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Richmond-based Massey Energy Co. and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are engaged in a battle over safety standards at Massey’s mines.

The coal company has been under fire for its safety record since an explosion earlier this month killed 29 miners. The cause of the blast is still under investigation.

On Tuesday, the conflict between MSHA and Massey heated up. First, the MSHA released a statement detailing safety violations found at three Massey-owned mines. A spokeswoman also testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday that Massey could have revised its ventilation plan rather than replacing it at the Upper Big Branch.

Massey released four statements of its own on Tuesday in response. Massey says that the MSHA required it to implement a more complex ventilation plan at the Upper Big Branch against the advice of its own engineers. During the Senate hearing, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said Massey could have revised its plan rather than replace it with a more complex plan. Massey said in a statement that MSHA had rejected its revised plan.

In a press release, MSHA said it had issued multiple citations after three visits to Massey-owned mines in West Virginia.  The agency said the visits were prompted by anonymous complaints of unsafe conditions. Each visit resulted in “serious” violations and the removal of mine workers from the site.

Two of the tips came March 24 and the other one came April 9, four days after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. Inspectors said they found inadequate air ventilation at two of the sites and mine cuts deeper than allowed at all three.

In another statement, Massey acknowledged that inspections took place at all three sites, but said it disagreed with some of the citations.  The company also said it takes violations seriously, and that foremen and miners at each of the sites were discharged or suspended well before MSHA’s statement about the inspections. The company said it had provided additional training and increased internal, unannounced inspections.

Massey also pointed out Tuesday that it had received MSHA’s “Sentinels of Safety Awards” in 2009.


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