Mine operators with safety violations have failed to pay millions of dollars they owe in penalties – a state of affairs David G. Zatezalo calls “unacceptable.” In a recent op-ed piece in The Intelligencer. Wheeling News-Register, Zatezalo said uncollected fines combined with continued violations “show disregard for the law and our nation’s miners.”

Zatezalo expressed frustration with the poor results of the Scofflaw Program, which was launched by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in 2007 for the express purpose of going after unpaid fines – but has allowed $67 million in delinquent penalties to accrue since its inception.

He noted that only 16 citations for failure to pay penalties were issued, and only five orders requiring a mine to shut down operations while continuing to pay miners their wages were issued during that time.

Zatezalo said he would be stepping up efforts to ensure mine operators pay their safety and health fines and abate the hazards identified in their operations.

“These penalties are an important reminder of the need to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for America’s miners.”

He also pointed out that not paying penalties and abating hazards is unfair to mine operators “who play by the rules,” because it allows the scofflaws to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Mine operators who fail to pay up – or to show good faith and arrange to pay their penalties will be pursued “with every means under the law,” said Zatezalo. Mine operators who do not pay can be forced to shut down production until fines are resolved (although miners will still be paid).

Citations for safety and health violations – which carry monetary penalties – are issued during annual inspections of mining operations conducted by MSHA inspectors. The collected penalties go to the U.S. Treasury.