STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The federal government is investigating its own regulators. A Labor Department inspector general is interested in what mine regulators do not do. They're accused of failing to collect millions of dollars in safety penalties. NPR's Howard Berkes first reported on this problem last fall, and he's tracking what the inspector general is doing now.
HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: They call it an audit at the Labor Department inspector general's office and it follows the watchdog's review of the NPR and Mine Safety and Health News series. We documented $70 million in unpaid mine safety fines and thousands of injuries and serious violations at delinquent mines. A spokesman confirms the audit and says it focuses on the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It's a welcome development to Larry Grayson, a mine safety consultant to industry, Congress and federal regulators.
LARRY GRAYSON: Anything that has a heightened level of risk for the miners is something that they'll definitely want to sort out.
BERKES: The NPR series also found that mines that fail to pay their safety fines had an injury rate 50 percent higher than the rest, especially at coal mines. Grayson believes that attracted the interest of the inspector general.
GRAYSON: Particularly because those same ones that have the largest number of penalties end up having the higher accident rate.
BERKES: The inspector general spokesman says the scope and objectives of the audit have yet to be determined. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says it doesn't comment on inspector general investigations. Grayson suggests the agency itself may need outside help in responding to the audit.
GRAYSON: If Congress is going to have to ultimately get involved if the findings corroborate what your findings have been.
BERKES: Congress has bipartisan interest in the audit. Democrats already introduced bills in both the House and Senate that would force mines to close if they failed to pay safety fines. Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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