Coal Tattoo


Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., wants to hold coal companies accountable for not reporting certain key health-and-safety information to their shareholders.

Byrd introduced an amendment yesterday to the huge Wall Street accountability bill (the Restoring American Financial Stability Act) as his first legislative response to the deaths  of 29 miners in an April 5 explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va.

In a statement this morning, Sen. Byrd said:

Investors ought to know if a company is jeopardizing its workforce in order to maximize its profits.  In addition, failure to disclose these adverse safety or health conditions could have a significant financial impact on investors, especially if there is a halt in operations because a company failed in its obligation to protect its workers.

As we seek to make Wall Street more transparent and accountable to investors and Main Street America, I believe it is imperative that workers, investors and the general public receive a more complete and consistent analysis of whether the companies in which they have invested their funds are operating in a safe and healthy manner. Many companies maintain commendable health and safety records, and also disclose those records.  Unfortunately, not all companies maintain such good records.  Inconsistent disclosure in the past has made it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Joining Sen. Byrd to co-sponsor the amendment was Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who said today:

By disclosing important mine safety information to shareholders, it’s a win for companies doing a good job, and a much-needed alert for companies who are not. Currently, there is no requirement to publicly disclose safety records, which has allowed companies to operate without critical checks and balances. West Virginia suffered a terrible loss recently at the Upper Big Branch mine and we owe it to our miners and their families to do more to make mine safety a top priority.

You can read the text of the Byrd amendment by clicking here, and then scrolling down until you see amendment No. 3880.

A summary released by the senator’s office described the amendment this way:

Specifically, Sen. Byrd’s amendment required publicly traded corporations to disclose information about occupational health and safety conditions at risky workplaces — such as coal mines or oil rigs.  The Securities and Exchange Commission and shareholders would be authorized to seek equitable relief (such as the immediate disclosure of health and safety conditions), as well as civil penalties in cases of knowing failure to disclose information.  The scope of the relief and the penalties would be set by a court, in proportion to other penalties that may be imposed under health and safety laws, and in light of the facts and the circumstances of each case.

The amendment requires corporations to disclose four categories of health and safety information:  pending litigation regarding health and safety; significant health or safety conditions at risky workplaces, which may cause the corporation to incur damages arising from wrongful deaths; significant health or safety conditions that may impact financial conditions or operating results within the corporation; and trends in health and safety violations that may affect the relationship between costs and revenues of a corporation.

Sen. Rockefeller also has filed his own amendment, (click here and search for amendment 3886), which his office summarized this way:

Senator Rockefeller’s amendment is needed to provide shareholders and investors with clear, up-to-date numerical data on a company’s mine safety record. This amendment would require any publicly-traded mine company to report the following information in their annual and quarterly filings with the SEC:

(1) The total number of significant and substantial violations of mandatory health or safety standards;

(2) The total number of failure to abate orders issued under section 104(b) of the Mine Act;

(3) The total number of citations and orders for unwarrantable failure of the mine operator to comply with mandatory health or safety standards under section 104(d) of the Mine Act;

(4) The total number of flagrant violations under section 110 of the Mine Act;

(5) The total number of imminent danger orders issued under section 107(a) of the Mine Act;

(6) The total dollar value of Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) proposed penalties and fines;

(7) A list of the regulated worksites that have been notified by MSHA of a Pattern of Violation or a Potential to have a Pattern of Violations under section 104(e) of the Mine Act; and

(8) Pending legal action before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

In addition, any publicly-traded mining company must issue an immediate disclosure report to the SEC if it:

(1) Receives a shutdown order under section 107(a) of the Mine Act (imminent danger), or

(2) Receives notice that a mine site has a potential or actual pattern of violations.