Read the decision here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration has agreed to cut in half the fines that International Coal Group must pay in the second of two legal cases over violations cited during the investigation of the Sago Mine Disaster, records show.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials agreed to settle an appeal of more than a dozen violations by slashing the fines from $134,000 to $72,000, a reduction of 46 percent.
Information about the MSHA deal is included in a recent administrative law judge's ruling that also reduced the fines for two other enforcement orders that ICG subsidiary Wolf Run had appealed concerning the January 2006 disaster.
Judge Jerold Feldman of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission ruled that the two violations -- concerning the company's failure to immediately report the incident to regulators and mine safety teams -- were not as serious as MSHA inspectors had alleged.
The Sept. 13 decision is the second time a ruling by Feldman and a settlement by MSHA officials has reduced fines related to the Sago disaster.
Last year, Feldman threw out two of five MSHA violations that alleged a lack of proper lightning protection at the Upshur County mine. Feldman reduced fines for the other violations from $4,000 to about $1,000, and approved a deal in which MSHA dropped fines for 31 other violations from $28,000 to $25,000.
A third case involving ICG's appeal of a ventilation violation related to seal construction is pending.
When the explosion occurred on the morning of Jan. 2, 2006, one team of Sago miners escaped, but another crew of 13 workers became trapped deep underground. One of them, fireboss Terry Helms, died shortly after the explosion from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Twelve other miners waited for rescuers behind a makeshift barricade when several could not get their emergency breathing devices to work. Eleven of them died before rescuers could reach them more than 40 hours later. Only one, Randal McCloy Jr., survived.
MSHA investigators found a variety of serious safety problems at Sago, including ignored electrical problems, poor training practices and unsafe equipment. Federal officials also concluded that stronger seals, proper methane monitoring and the removal of a pump cable from a sealed-off area of the mine could have prevented the disaster.
However, MSHA did not classify any of the violations as having contributed to the deaths.
The recent ruling by Feldman focused on enforcement orders in which MSHA alleged serious negligence by ICG in delaying reporting the explosion to government officials and to specially trained mine rescue teams.