One of the mines cited was Metinvest's Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, where two workers died in separate incidents on Feb. 7 and Feb. 19. The others were Patriot Coal's Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, and Tram Energy's Mine No. 1 in Floyd County, Ky.
The notices are the latest in a renewed effort to use a program that lawmakers created in 1977, after finding that repeated citations by inspectors weren't enough to prevent a series of explosions that killed 23 miners and three inspectors at the Scotia Mine in Kentucky in March 1976.
Under the POV program, mines with a history of safety problems are kicked into a tougher enforcement bracket. Each time an additional serious citation is issued, that part of the mine is closed. Mines can have the pattern-of-violations designation lifted only if they go an entire quarterly inspection without a series violation.
But MSHA for years delayed in writing rules to implement the POV program. When it did write rules, critics say they had far too many loopholes. And screening of mine operators to look for repeat violators was sporadic.
Officials from Patriot Coal and Metinvest, the two companies with West Virginia mines on the new POV list, both criticized the MSHA action and said they have already taken significant steps to improve safety at the operations in question.
And various industry groups and coal companies are challenging the MSHA rule in court. They're especially upset about changes that eliminated a preliminary warning letter to mine operators at risk of being put on POV status and a move that allows MSHA to count citations and orders toward a mine's violation history even if those enforcement actions remain under appeal by the company.
Gary Broadbent, a spokesman for Murray Energy, one of the companies that filed a legal challenge, said the MSHA rule "absolutely deprives coal operators of their right to due process, fails to protect coal miners, and is clearly unconstitutional."
"We look forward to arguing our petition and getting this rule vacated," Broadbent said Friday.
The court challenges are pending before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.