Get fined? Just don't pay

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Lets get this straight.

Over the course of more than 20 years, Stanley Osborne, the owner of two Pike County coal-mining companies, amassed more than $200,000 in civil penalties for safety violations and since 2003, fines of more than $80,000 levied by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

And Osborne didnt bother to pay any of it.

Now MSHA has filed suit in federal court in Eastern Kentucky to have Osborne pay the fines and penalties and post a bond to guarantee payment of any future fines and penalties.

MSHA is hailing the lawsuit as a great leap forward, and suggesting more similar suits may be forthcoming. A former mining official in the Clinton administration calls the suit against Osborne precedent-setting.

Are we the only ones asking why MSHA waited two decades to collect these fines? A penalty for mine safety violations involves no penalty at all if the mine owner apparently feels free to ignore the penalty entirely?

Certainly, fines and civil penalties that are assessed but never collected are hardly deterrents for future safety violations. We have to wonder if the inspection process is simply paying lip service to miners safety while MSHA looks after the owners bottom line.

Can anyone imagine the slaughter on Kentucky highways if motorists felt free to drive as fast as they want because no one bothers to collect fines for speeding violations?

The timing of the MSHA lawsuit is a bit suspicious, since Congress is taking a serious look at the effectiveness of federal mine safety regulations in light of last months mine disasters in West Virginia. Those mines had a long history of being cited for serious safety problems.

After more than 20 years of federal mine safety oversight, that MSHA is setting a precedent by trying to collect on old fines and penalties is simply astonishing.

With this level of safety oversight of underground mines, its truly miraculous that there are as few disasters in mines as there are.

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