Labor Dept. Drastically Cuts Back Legal Oversight of Mine Safety

Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Relatives of Upper Big Branch mine disaster victims (photo: Haraz N.Ghanbari, AP)

Budget cuts brought on by sequestration have resulted in the U.S. Department of Labor downsizing the offices charged with regulating mine safety.


The timing of the cuts couldn’t be more painful for the survivors of the Upper Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia. April 5 will mark the third anniversary of the accident that killed 29 workers.


Federal regulators hired more than 70 attorneys following the 2010 explosion to establish the Litigation Backlog Project and reduce the backlog of contested mine safety citations, which had grown to 16,600. The mine’s owner, Massey Energy, had the highest contestation rate of any coal mine in the U.S. During the five years prior to the explosion, Massey had received 1,422 safety violation citations at Upper Big Branch alone, for which it had to pay $1.89 million in penalties. Massey was subsequently sold to one of its competitors, Alpha Natural Resources.


Two of the Backlog project’s five offices are now slated for closure, which will result in 30 lawyers being laid off by June 1.


The Labor Department says the closures will save the agency $2.1 million. Officials have added that the project was meant to be temporary and that sequestration cuts only accelerated plans for letting people go.


Some members of Congress, the miners union and families of the Upper Big Branch miners who were killed have criticized the Labor Department for its decision.


“They should have made the cuts somewhere else. This was to make mines safer,” Gary Quarles, whose son Gary “Spanky” Wayne died at Upper Big Branch, told The Washington Post. “Here we are, and it is about to be the third anniversary…We thought something good might come out of it. This is wrong.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Legal Efforts to Pursue Mine Safety Claims Cut under Sequestration (by Kimberly Kindy, Washington Post)

Report Says Fatal West Virginia Mine Disaster Could Have Been Prevented by Regulators (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Mine Safety Administration Blames Massey for Preventable Deadly Big Branch Disaster (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment