A federal audit of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, released in August 2019, found no evidence to support a correlation between payment of mine safety penalties and the safety of mine operations over 18 years.
Wes Addington, executive director of the nonprofit Appalachian Citizens Law Center, told National Public Radio that “penalties just aren’t high enough to deter bad behavior.”
The auditors looked at coal, metal and nonmetal mines together.
The auditors recommended that MSHA hold mine operators accountable for their safety record by not allowing them to open new mines if they have outstanding penalties. However, MSHA claims they do not have the legal authority to do this. Auditors also recommended that MSHA develop ways to measure the effectiveness of penalties, but MSHA expressed difficulties, telling NPR that fines are one of many variables to make mines safe.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and his family own the most delinquent mine companies in the country. The companies owed $4.7 million in unpaid mine safety penalties as of September, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of all mine-related delinquent debt in the United States, according to information disclosed by MSHA.
In May, MSHA and the U.S. Department of Justice sued the Justice family for failure to pay. In July, lawyers for the Justice family filed a motion to dismiss, which federal prosecutors refused. — By Hannah McAlister