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MSHA launches 'inspection blitz' of 57 coal mines nationwide

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The Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal government's chief mining regulator, launched what it is calling an "inspection blitz" of 57 coal mines nationwide last weekend, focusing on ventilation and methane violations, in the wake of the April 5 West Virginia mine explosion that claimed 29 lives.

The 57 mines were selected for inspection based on their history of significant and/or repeat MSHA violations regarding problems with ventilation, methane buildup and rock dusting. Though the cause of the fatal explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia is still being investigated, early guesses point to a combination of a buildup of dangerous concentration of methane gas and highly explosive coal dust. If a mine is properly ventilated -- and if non-combustible rock dust is spread over exposed coal face walls, lowering the amount of coal dust in the air -- the risk of explosions should be held to a minimum.

“The purpose of these inspections is to provide assurance that no imminent dangers, explosions, hazards or other serious health or safety conditions and practices are present at these mines,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main said in a statement moments ago. “Just last week, we pledged to the president that we will do whatever it takes to make sure another tragedy like the one that claimed 29 miners’ lives at Upper Big Branch never happens again.”

Following the West Virginia explosion, Main instructed all district managers overseeing the nation’s coal mines to focus increased attention on mine ventilation, rock dusting, methane monitoring and mine examinations during all ongoing regular inspections.

As many as 10 inspectors descended on each of the 57 mines during the inspection. More than 275 MSHA employees participated.

The targeted mines are in 10 states, with West Virginia leading the list with 23 mines. Kentucky has 14, and no other state has more than four mines.

The Upper Big Branch mine is owned by Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, run by outspoken chief executive Don Blankenship, who has blasted mine inspections in recent years and contested a number of violations. At least nine of the mines on the list of 57 are owned by Massey.

MSHA said it will release the results of the inspections as soon as they become available.

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By Frank Ahrens  |  April 21, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
 | Tags: Coal mining, Don Blankenship, Massey Energy, Methane, Mine Safety and Health Administration, United States, Upper Big Branch, West Virginia  
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Thank you, Pres. Obama!

Posted by: angie12106 | April 21, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

It's probably a bad choice of words to say that the Massey CEO "blasted" mine inspections.

That being said, bravo to the mine inspectors! Deregulation and under-regulation cost lives and let fat cats get rich at the expense of the (non-rich) American worker.

Posted by: brian_away | April 21, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Good move. However, why not raise the cost of violations including closure? The feds play "soft ball" with these hard ball businesses. And we wait for Death to visit before getting tough...

Posted by: Towards_Light | April 21, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Fred: You are only partially correct when you write:
"Bingo. That gets right at the heart of it. People like you and me -- retail investors -- have relationships with investment advisers who are charged with acting in our best interest and giving us good advice. We are meant to believe they have our interest at heart." It comes down to what you mean by "investment advisor." If you are working with an independent investment advisor, that is, someone who is not a broker at Morgan Stanley, Merrill or any of the other well known brokers, you can presume that your interests are being put ahead of the firm or the broker. If you are working with an "account representative," a "wealth advisor," a "financial advisor" or just simply someone who the firm calls a broker, you do not have this protection.
Yes, they have a responsibility to make suitable investment recommendations, but they are not obligated to explain to you that their firm might be on the other side of the transaction or that he or she is being rewarded at a higher rate for pushing the company's own products.
That Senators' questioning focused on whether Goldman had a fiduciary responbisility to its clients and poses the same question at a much more rarified level. But it is the same: does a broker have a responsibility to put your interests ahead of his. And the answer is NO.
IMHO, it should be otherwise. Anyone who serves as an advisor to an investor should have this fundamental responsibility. But that is not the way the securities industry, its regulators or Congress have structured the world.

Posted by: gratianus | April 27, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

OBAMA hates coal companies, this is a perfect chance for him. MSHA was at fault at Crandal canyon but no one in district 9 went to jail and when the smoke clears it will be again MSHA who dropped the ball on this place. The agency has been in enforcment for 35 years,, MESA/ MSHA miners still die, its a hazardus industry,
Coal companies are as evil as the people who run them and as evel as the people who demand the power to turn on the lights at night and its those people who think you can just walk in and shut down a mine dont know the law or the constution of the united states,, or the bill of rights

Posted by: aminer2 | April 27, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse

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