An administrative law judge has ordered two major coal producers, Massey Energy Co. and Peabody Energy Corp., to turn over information about coal mine accidents, injuries and work-related illnesses, federal regulators said Tuesday.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Richmond, Va.-based Massey and St. Louis-based Peabody refused to turn over information it needed to determine if eight mines in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia should be subject to greater enforcement because of persistent violations. Each mine was cited for not providing the records.
If MSHA determines a mine is exhibiting a pattern of violations, it can be forced to stop production and remove miners whenever inspectors find a serious problem. Just two U.S. coal mines have ever received the designation.
"This move has unnecessarily delayed MSHA's review ... for seven of these mines," MSHA director Joe Main said in a statement. "Mine operators should be aware that we are not going to rely on what they report to make such critical determinations. We will check those records ourselves."
Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said that company is considering an appeal.
"We worked to provide every document MSHA requested with the exception of the complete medical records," Gillenwater said. "Our miners have a right to privacy and we respectfully opposed providing private medical information."
Peabody issued a statement saying the case is purely about protecting individual privacy. The company said it is alarmed that MSHA could demand to review the private medical records of individuals by obtaining them from their employer and is evaluating its legal options.
Kenneth Andrews, an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, issued the orders in similar cases involving each company.
Andrews rejected Peabody's argument that it could withhold "sensitive and private" records, MSHA said. Andrews ruled that MSHA's request was a "reasonable exercise of government responsibility" and that the agency's interest in improving mine safety outweighs a mine operator's interest in privacy.
MSHA said it cited Peabody subsidiary Big Ridge Inc.'s Willow Lake Portal mine in Illinois and its Peabody Midwest Mining LLC's Air Quality No. 1 Mine in Indiana. MSHA cited three of Massey's West Virginia mines: Justice No. 1 and Randolph in Boone County and Road Fork No. 51 in Wyoming County. It cited Massey's Love Branch South and Process Energy's No. 1 mine in eastern Kentucky. Massey's Coal Creek Prep Plant in Tazewell, Va.