The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) last week filed a complaint in the United States District Court for Southern District of West Virginia, charging that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) unlawfully released Pocahontas Coal Company, LLC’s Affinity Mine from MSHA’s Pattern of Violations (POV) status in August.

The Complaint charges that, “Defendants are in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) for unlawfully ignoring the statutory and regulatory requirements for terminating a POV Notice and replacing it with another process that was not created by Congress or otherwise properly promulgated.”

"This decision by MSHA is a direct threat to miners’ health and safety anywhere in the United States"

MSHA placed the Affinity mine on POV status on October 24, 2013, because of a long record of significant safety violations. POV is an enforcement tool that enables MSHA to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with a long history of serious safety and health violations. For a mine to be released from POV status, Congress mandates that there must be a full inspection of the mine in which no Serious and Substantial (S&S) violations are found. That was not the case prior to Affinity being released from POV status.

“When MSHA announced it was releasing the Affinity mine from POV status, we immediately questioned that decision,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “The agency did not follow the law as clearly spelled out by Congress when it enacted the POV enforcement tool as part of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Act of 1977 (Mine Act).

“We filed this complaint because this decision by MSHA is a direct threat to miners’ health and safety anywhere in the United States,” Roberts said. “Mines that are not operated safely deserve the extra scrutiny they get under POV status, and management needs to prove that it can operate safely before that status is lifted. But that is not what happened here. If the agency can flagrantly ignore the law and lift POV status at Affinity and get away with it, then it will do so again. We want to make sure that cannot happen.”

The UMWA’s complaint asks that the Court declare that MSHA’s actions violates the Plaintiff’s rights under the APA and the Mine Act, that it issue a writ to compel MSHA to take all appropriate action to enforce Section 104(e) of the Mine Act by enforcing the POV Notice at Affinity Mine, and that it set aside as unlawful MSHA’s action in terminating the POV Notice at Affinity Mine.