During Friday's hearing in Covington, Ky., Thapar also told government lawyers to amend their complaint and provide additional information to address Massey's announcement -- made after the original suit was filed -- that it would cease coal production at Freedom Energy and close the mine.
"I'm pleased the judge viewed the statute the way we viewed the statute, but this was just a motion to dismiss," said Solicitor of Labor Patricia Smith. "We're going to go forward with the evidentiary hearing. This is not an action that is over, so I'm not declaring victory."
Shane Harvey, Massey's general counsel, said the company is pleased the court "is taking a hard look at these important issues."
"We're hesitant to describe the hearing as a 'victory' for any party, but we are pleased that the court is more clearly defining the issues at hand," Harvey said. "Moreover, in any event, we are committed to closing the mine in a safe fashion and open to working with MSHA in doing so."
When MSHA filed the initial suit in early November, the agency cited nearly 2,000 violations over the last two years at Freedom Energy, and agency inspectors alleged the company had failed to clear the mine of excessive coal dust, not properly controlled the mine roof, ignored requirements for testing and maintaining electrical equipment, and not effectively ventilating the mine.
Smith said that MSHA remains concerned about the safety of miners who will continue to work helping Massey close the mine, especially in light of deteriorating roof conditions and repeated roof falls.
"Whether those miners are in that mine running coal or they're in that mine taking out equipment, they could still have a roof fall," Smith said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.