Mining Penalties Go Unpaid but Operations Continue

November 14, 2014


When it comes to penalizing mining companies that violate safety standards the idea is to hit them with a fine so stiff it makes them upgrade their equipment and operations. However, according to a recent study conducted by NPR and Mine Safety & Health News, thousands of mine operators fail to pay safety penalties and yet continue to manage and operate unsafe mines.


The study found that most unpaid penalties are between two and 10 years overdue with some going back two decades. In many cases it appears the mining companies have ignored the fine and federal regulators have made little or no effort to collect.


According to the NPR report, some of the troubling findings include:


  • 2,700 mining company owners failed to pay nearly $70 million in delinquent penalties
  • The top nine delinquents owe more than $1 million each
  • Mines that don't pay their penalties are more dangerous than mines that do, with injury rates 50 percent higher
  • Delinquent mines reported close to 4,000 injuries in the years they failed to pay, including accidents that killed 25 workers and left 58 others with permanent disabilities
  • Delinquent mines continued to violate the law with more than 130,000 violations, while they failed to pay mine safety fines


The violation at delinquent mines includes 40,000 that are classified in government safety records as "Significant and Substantial". While delinquent accounts make up just 7% of the nation's coal, metals and mineral mining companies, those are the most dangerous types of mines in operation.


The biggest problem is how mines that are refusing to pay fines are still able to operate even though their operations represent a clear and present danger. An attorney representing an injured West Virginia coal miner told NPR, "Most folks out there, including me, are totally shocked when they find out that you can actually just sit around and not pay the fine and keep producing coal and put money in the bank".