WASHINGTON — The chairman of a congressional panel that oversees mine safety on Wednesday released a list of 48 mines that could face greater scrutiny if not for delays in assessing the safety violations filed against them.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said he wants the public to have all relevant information about potentially dangerous mines in the hope of avoiding another disaster.
The list includes the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners died in an explosion last week.
Twenty-one others on the list are coal mines in West Virginia. Included are four coals mines in Kentucky and one coal mine each in Illinois, Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas and Arizona. The remaining 16 mines are metal and nonmetal mines in 13 states.
All 48 mines on the list have been cited for a large number of serious safety violations. But mine operators are contesting many of those citations. Only violations that are fully resolved can be considered in the count that would trigger tougher penalties.
The contested violations are part of a huge backlog of more than 16,000 unresolved cases at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. Mine companies have challenged a greater percentage of penalties since Congress passed new mine safety laws after the 2006 Sago Mine disaster that killed 12 miners. The commission says it doesn't have enough staff to handle the increase.
Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and other Democrats have accused mine operators of challenging more fines just to delay stronger penalties that would result if they are found to show a pattern of violations. Mine companies say they have a legal right to contest penalties if they think they are unfair.
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(This version CORRECTS the number of states to 13, not 15.)