NPR logo Regulators Move To Shut Down Kentucky Mine, Citing Risk Of Fatal Accidents

Mine Safety In America

Regulators Move To Shut Down Kentucky Mine, Citing Risk Of Fatal Accidents

The Labor Department is asking a federal judge to close a coal mine in Pike County, Ky., to protect the lives of some 130 miners who work there. The Freedom Mine No. 1, owned by Massey Energy, has been cited for safety violations more than 700 times this year.

In an unprecedented move, the Labor Department is seeking a federal injunction to close the mine until conditions are improved — and Massey Energy proves it can operate the mine safely.

NPR's Howard Berkes and Robert Benincasa broke this story. Here's an excerpt of their report:

Freedom Energy Mine No. 1 "has a high risk level for a fatal accident...on any given day" writes James Poynter, an assistant district manager at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), in a document filed in federal court on Wednesday.

"MSHA continues to find serious and threatening conditions at this mine," Poynter adds, even after federal officials met multiple times with Freedom Energy managers about conditions at the mine. The most recent meeting cited took place in July.

"MSHA has used all the tools available to it in the regulatory scheme in an attempt to bring this operator into compliance," Poynter concludes.

Massey also owns the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where in April, 29 mine workers died. That tragedy has sparked civil and criminal investigations. The first hearing in the Freedom Mine case is expected to be convened in the next several weeks in federal court.