WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Federal regulators are trying to get tougher with Kentucky coal companies that haven't paid overdue fines for health and safety violations, filing two federal collections lawsuits and shutting down one mine so far this year, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader in its Saturday edition.
Such collection efforts were unusual until about three years ago. The latest lawsuit charges that Right Fork Energy Inc. hasn't paid $201,000 in fines it owes for safety violations at three Pike County mines in 2006 and 2007.
An attorney representing the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration filed the lawsuit in federal court in Pikeville earlier this week. "We're taking a heavier hand with these operators," said Amy Louviere, spokeswoman for MSHA.
The agency has filed similar lawsuits in other states as well, Louviere said. No one from Right Fork Energy was available for comment. Federal records list only one mine for the company, and it shows no production there after 2006.
In January, MSHA sued Kentucky Darby LLC, a Harlan County mine where an explosion killed five workers and injured another in May 2006.
The lawsuit alleges that the company has failed to pay $505,000 it owes for safety citations before the blast, even though it agreed to pay.
Kentucky Darby said in its response to the lawsuit that it can't pay because it has no money. The company spent nearly $1 million making its mine at Holmes Mill safe after the explosion, but hasn't produced coal there since, the company said. The lawsuit is pending.
And in March, MSHA issued an order shutting down a Knott County mine operated by Double A Mining Inc., because the company owed more than $300,000 in delinquent fines.
It was the first time MSHA had shut down a mine anywhere in the country because of unpaid fines.
The agency anticipates filing more lawsuits and issuing more closure orders, Louviere said.
"We will continue to pursue scofflaw mine operators that have significant delinquent debt," she said.
In the last two to three years, MSHA also has obtained injunctions or judgments against several other Kentucky coal companies in cases involving unpaid fines. Some other companies paid delinquent fines in the face of potential sanctions, such as being shut down, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader.
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