delinquent fines for
operators owe the federal government
$29.2 million in delinquent fines — more
than any state in the nation, an analysis by
The Courier-Journal shows.
Those fines make up 40 percent of the
nearly $73.6 million that coal companies
owe the federal government.
D & C Mining Corp. of Harlan County alone
owes more than $2.1 million in unpaid
fines, while Murriel-Don Coal Co. Inc. of
Knott and Floyd counties racked up
$970,526 in fines.
Many of the unpaid penalties nationwide
and in Kentucky are years old and some
date to 1993, records with the federal
Mine Safety and Health Administration
show. The Courier-Journal examined data
through the end of March.
The fines, for violations of federal safety
laws, have been levied against
underground and surface coal mines, metal
and non-metal mines, sand pits, quarries,
trucking companies and related operations.
While millions of dollars in penalties have
been referred to the Department of the
never be collected, despite the serious
safety violations that prompted the
That’s in part because some companies
have declared bankruptcy, while others
have closed and abandoned mines,
Critics say the uncollected fines reflect the
stark reality that the federal agency whose
mission it is to enforce safety in the nation’s
mines doesn’t have the power to make
chronic scofflaws suffer any consequences.
And that, they say, is a safety issue.
“Mine operators have less incentive to keep
miners safe when fines go uncollected,”
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said in a
statement. “If operators can ignore fines
with impunity, enforcement efforts will have
no deterrent effect.”
Miller is sponsoring mine-safety legislation
that includes a provision giving MSHA the
paying their fines.
“These delinquencies undermine MSHA’s
efforts to protect miners,” the congressman
said. “MSHA needs better tools to swiftly
shut down an operation when the operator
refuses to pay overdue fines.”
But his bill has been languishing in the
“There’s no deterrent at all for companies
that don’t play by the rules,” echoed Wes
Addington, deputy director of the
Appalachian Citizens Law Center, a
nonprofit law firm in Whitesburg, Ky., that
represents coal miners and their families
on mine-safety and black-lung issues.
“If you don’t pay a single cent, nothing will
happen,” Addington said. “It’s about as
weak a collection process as you could see
in American life. If the IRS collected
overdue (tax) penalties the way we do from
mining violations, the country would go
MSHA chief Joseph Main countered in a
statement that his agency has “a very high
collection rate — 85-90 percent.”
Last year, MSHA collected $104 million in
penalties from companies cited for safety
violations, which represents 84 percent of
the fines the agency assessed. That is
down from a high of 90 percent in 2006
and 2007, according to MSHA figures.
Main added in his statement that “We are
do not pay their penalties and will continue
working with other agencies that have an
obligation to collect delinquent debt.”
coal mines, particularly in the eastern part
of the commonwealth, leads the nation in
delinquent fines at $29,259,605. West
Virginia is second, with $14.7 million in
Pennsylvania ranks third, with $3.2 million
in overdue fines. Virginia accounts for $2.9
million in delinquent penalties, followed by
Tennessee at almost $2.7 million, Alabama
at $2.4 million, and Texas at nearly $1.9
Indiana ranks 11th among the states in
uncollected fines, with $732,852.
Of Kentucky’s $29 million in delinquent
penalties, about $9.8 million is owed by
mines; $6.3 million is owed by non-
producing active mines; and $3.6 million is
owed by mines listed by MSHA as
temporarily idle, the data shows.
An additional $9.5 million is owed to MSHA
by mines that have been abandoned.
Nationwide, MSHA calculates that about
half of the unpaid fines became delinquent
in the past 2½ years, while it generally can
take three to four years to finally collect the
The Courier-Journal reported last month
that nearly six years after an explosion
killed five miners at Kentucky Darby Mine
No. 1 in Harlan County, the operators have
not paid nearly $700,000 in civil fines and
interest fees for safety violations connected
to the accident.
Kentucky Darby is closed and the company
is not in business, although its operators
are mining under the names of other
companies, The Courier-Journal reported.
That case is hardly isolated, federal data
A Kentucky company called D & C Mining
Corp., which operates an active
underground mine in Harlan County, owes
the government more than $2.1 million, the
largest sum of any overdue penalties in the
state, according to MSHA’s data.
A miner, Wilson “Rome” Meade, was
crushed to death at the D & C mine in June
MSHA filed a civil suit against D & C in
March in the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of Kentucky, seeking $1.6
million of the penalties the company owes.
Under federal law, the agency has six
months to serve D & C a summons for the
case, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere
said. “Thus far, our attempts at service by
mail have been unsuccessful. Our next step
is to personally serve the summons on the
operator,” she said.
The phone number listed for D & C has
Murriel-Don Coal Co., which operated
three mines in Knott and Floyd counties,
owes MSHA nearly $1 million. The mines
are now listed by MSHA as abandoned,
and the company could not be reached.
may appeal. Once final judgments are
rendered, the clock starts ticking. After
180 days without payment in a final fine,
MSHA refers that delinquent debt to the
Department of the Treasury for collection.
In some cases, Treasury may refer
uncollected debt to the Department of
MSHA is processing about $8 million in
penalties at any given time, spokeswoman
Amy Louviere said, and some of that could
According to agency figures, $26.3 million
of the $73.6 million in delinquencies are
penalties levied against mines that have
been abandoned, while an additional
$15.2 million are fines incurred by
operators who no longer run the mines
where the violations were found.
However, operators frequently close mines
and open new ones and change company
names without ever leaving coal mining.
Tony Oppegard, a former state and federal
mine safety official who is an attorney in
Lexington, Ky., said federal law needs to
be changed to give MSHA more regulatory
“Presumably unsafe conditions still are
being abated (when MSHA safety citations
are issued), but it does make a mockery of
the inspection process to a certain extent”
when companies don’t pay fines,
money, you are devaluing miners’ lives,” he
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal
Association, said the coal industry has a
constitutional right to challenge government
fines through appeals.
But, he added, “if a final order has been
rendered, and at that point you’ve
exhausted any kind of legal recourse,
payment should be made.”
The largest fines owed by Kentucky companies to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration
D & C Mining Corp., Harlan County
Murriel-Don Coal Co., Inc., Knott and Floyd counties
Solar Coal Co., Inc., Harlan County
CSA Mining, Inc., Letcher County
Vision Coal, Inc., Letcher County
Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., Harlan County
Double A Mining Inc., Knott County
Midgard Mining Co., LLC, Letcher and Pike counties