POLITICS

Utah Mine Owner Attacked Post-Sago Safety Proposals

03/28/2008 02:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the weeks following the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia in 2006, the owner of the Utah mine where six workers remained trapped underground Tuesday called state efforts to pass stricter mine safety laws "seriously flawed, knee-jerk" reactions.

"I resent these politicians playing politics with my employees' safety," Robert E. Murray told the Columbus Dispatch in January 2006.

Murray was responding to a proposal in the Ohio legislature that would have created a mining emergency operations center and required workers to wear wireless communications devices.

Similar legislation was introduced and passed in the West Virginia legislature during a single day.

Ohio lawmakers eventually passed a less stringent mine safety package.

Six workers have been trapped since Monday in the Crandall Canyon mine owned by Murray Energy Corporation.

According to government records, federal mine safety regulators have levied $260,073 in fines against the mine since 1995. The mine has received 32 citations since the beginning of 2007.

A spokesman for Murray Energy defended the company's safety record Tuesday.

"That number of violations does not suggest in any way that we are an unsafe operation," said Rob Moore, a Murray Energy vice president. "We are one of the safest mining operations in the country."

Murray told the Associated Press Tuesday, "I believe we run a very safe coal mine. We've had an excellent record."

In 2003 another Murray-owned mining company, KenAmerican Resources, and four of its top employees, were convicted by a federal court in Kentucky of conspiring to violate federal mine-safety rules.

A judge later threw out part of the verdict, but upheld one single count of conspiring to violate safety laws against both the company and a mine superintendent.

A spokesman for the United Mineworkers of America said Murray's vocal opposition in 2006 to the proposed safety laws in Ohio was typical of his "volatile" personality.

"Anything that will cost Bob Murray any extra money he will find reason to find fault with it," said Phil Smith, the labor union's communications director. Smith said his union currently represents workers at one of Murray's mines.

He said the organization launched a corporate campaign against Murray in 2000 and 2001.

According to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, there has been one fatality at the Crandall Canyon mine since 1995.

Murray told reporters Tuesday that it could take three days to reach the six men, who are trapped about three miles from the mine's entrance. The mine is about 1,500 feet below ground. The Crandall Canyon mine is roughly 130 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

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