Appalachian News-Express, Pikeville
It looks like federal officials are finally cracking down on coal companies with unpaid fines, and thats a good thing.
Our only concern is that so far, its not much of a crackdown.
This week, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration filed a lawsuit against two Pike County mining operations owned by a Virgie man.
Federal officials say they want to not only force the man to pay more than $80,000 in unpaid fines, they want him to have to post a bond that could be used to pay future fines.
Now we agree that coal companies should have to pay fines for safety violations. Otherwise, the entire inspection system is meaningless.
But we cant help but wonder why MSHA picked one fairly small company to target, when overall, mining companies in Kentucky owe millions of dollars in unpaid fines.
For MSHA to be effective, they must force all companies to pay their fines. If they dont, shut them down until they pay, or work out some type of monthly payment plan.
Or how about simply refusing to issue the owners of companies with outstanding debts any more mining permits until they pay up?
Allowing the companies to continue to accrue fines that they simply dont bother to pay as MSHA has apparently been doing for years is ridiculous.
As was reported by The Courier-Journal, 28 Kentucky coal mines have been assessed $2.8 million in fines of $10,000 or more dating back to 1996. Nearly $1.7 million of that total that can no longer be contested remains uncollected from Kentucky mine operators, according to records from the Mine Health and Safety Administration.
The remaining $1.1 million in fines is still being contested.
Companies have avoided the fines in a number of ways, including appeals that can go on for years, and companies that file for bankruptcy or go out of business.
The MSHA lawsuit was filed after the deaths of 19 miners so far this year, including two in Pike County.
The series of high-profile mining accidents inspired the Kentucky General Assembly, where members have been busy making new mine safety legislation.
But our concern is that the laws already in place arent being enforced, so what good are new laws going to do?
Instead of running around passing new laws, lets start by enforcing the ones we already have. And that means a real MSHA crackdown one that goes far beyond just one small Pike County company.