As an interim step, Main announced Monday a rewrite of his agency's "screening criteria," a complicated formula for how many of what type of violations and accidents deserve consideration for tougher enforcement.
"We are aggressively pursuing both regulatory and legislative reforms, but in the meantime, this new policy improves our ability to identify problems mines," Main said in a prepared statement.
At the same time, MSHA officials said the new formula would likely reduce the number of mines that the agency considers for a pattern of violations order.
Among other things, the formula increases the number of more serious violations needed for underground mines, from 20 in a two-year period to 50 in a one-year period.
"This is a way to focus enforcement resources," said Doug Parker, a special assistant to Main. "It is more focused on looking at mines with the worst records."
Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said the more narrow focus was one of the things industry was looking for in any changes to MSHA's pattern of violations process.
"We see some good concepts embedded in it," Raulston said Tuesday. "We're still looking at the details."
But Oppegard said the narrowed focus is actually a major weakness in the new MSHA policy.
"It seems to me that MSHA is misjudging the seriousness of the problem of outlaw mine operators," Oppegard said. "They're saying, 'Let's get only the worst of the outlaws,' but there may be other outlaws that will be allowed to go on. A lot of outlaw operators are going to be able to escape."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.