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Source: UMWA

Federal Administrative Law Judge David F. Barbour today issued a ruling that vacates or modifies all eight citations and orders issued by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) against Jim Walters Resources (JWR) that were a result of MSHA's findings after the September 23, 2001 explosions at JWR's #5 mine in Brookwood, Ala.

Reacting to the decision, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said that, "this decision is a bitter disappointment for our union and the families of those who lost their lives on that tragic day four years ago. Judge Barbour found that MSHA simply did not do its job when it came to proving its case against JWR."

At approximately 5:20 pm on September 23, 2001, an explosion in the mine trapped a miner under debris. Twelve of his fellow workers were on their way to attempt to rescue him when a second explosion occurred that killed all thirteen of them.

"Thirteen miners lost their lives that day. Wives lost husbands, mothers lost sons and children lost fathers, " Roberts said. "Ever since then, Jim Walters Resources has spent great sums of money and hours upon hours of time trying to deflect their responsibility for this accident. If they had spent all that money and all that time improving conditions in the mine prior to September 23, 2001, then we would in all likelihood not be having this discussion today."

After its investigation into the accident was completed in 2002, MSHA issued citations and orders against JWR for violations ranging from roof control to mine dust levels to evacuation and fire drill procedures. MSHA levied $435,000 in fines relating to these violations. In his ruling today, ALJ Barbour found that MSHA did not prove most of the violations. Barbour vacated all but two of those citations, and modified or only partly affirmed those two. His decision reduced the amount of fines to $3,000. "This amount is just a pittance compared to the lives of 13 coal miners" Roberts said.

"MSHA must become better at defending its citations and orders when it brings them against companies which will fight those citations to the end even when they're guilty," Roberts said. "It's high time MSHA started devoting more funding, more scientific and forensic expertise and more institutional concern to its investigations.

"The UMWA has been saying for years that MSHA has been extremely casual and cavalier in its enforcement of the laws and regulations regarding mine safety and health," Roberts said. "The fact is that our members and our union at JWR #5 had made dozens upon dozens of formal complaints about conditions in the mine," Roberts said. "The company wasn't going to do anything about those conditions unless someone made them, and MSHA is the agency charged with doing just that. MSHA failed in that responsibility, and it continues to fail coal miners in Alabama and elsewhere in America."

"Despite this ruling, the UMWA has not and will never stop fighting for better and safer conditions in America's coal mines, including Jim Walters Resources mines in Alabama," Roberts said. "Our hearts and souls are with the families of those who lost their lives there. On their behalf, and in the memory of our fallen brothers and the over 100,000 miners who have been killed in this nation's mines in the last 100 years, we will continue our fight."


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