Coal Tattoo

Court allows Massey/Alpha to continue MSHA case

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It wasn’t so long ago that a federal court ruling in a case involving Massey Energy and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration would have gotten tons of local media attention — even national coverage, probably.

But I have to say that even I had lost track of Massey’s lawsuit challenging the way MSHA enforces ventilation plans at underground coal mines. Some readers, though, may recall, that the dispute focused on whether Massey could use scrubbers to control dust and thus also be allowed to take larger cuts of coal. They might also recall this was one of the issues Massey pressed with MSHA in its public relations campaign to deflect attention on safety problems that led to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Then, I saw the Courthouse News Service site’s story about last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, reporting:

Six coal companies owned by Massey Energy can move forward with claims that safety regulators violated their constitutional rights in the way they implemented a mine-safety law, a Washington federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg tossed the companies’ claims that that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 itself is unconstitutional, but allowed the companies to proceed on claims that the Mine Safety and Health Administration may be putting the act into practice in an unconstitutional way.

Elk Run Coal Company and five other mine operators sued the Department of Labor, the administration and three of its officials, claiming the act was unconstitutional because it allowed the administration to arbitrarily refuse to allow the companies to use certain types of mine ventilation systems, like scrubbers that remove coal dust from the air.

Importantly:

… The judge refused to scrap the companies’ claim that the administration implemented the act in a way that violated their due process rights. The companies accused the administration of having a “pattern and practice” of “refusing to approve a submitted plan or adopting an arbitrary position with respect to the plan that is based on generic beliefs unrelated to the specific conditions or mining system at the mine.