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Murray Energy, MSHA unable to settle suit over pattern-violator rule for mines

Murray Energy Corp. and the Ohio Coal Association were unable to reach a settlement with federal mine safety officials over a challenge to an Obama-era rule targeting repeat violators of mine safety standards, and the parties now plan to proceed with briefing the merits of the case.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the plaintiffs told the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in a joint filing Dec. 19 that despite extensions on previous deadlines to negotiate a settlement, they were unable to reach an agreement.

MSHA debuted the rule in 2013 in response to a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners. The mine was operated by Massey Energy, whose former CEO was later convicted of a conspiracy to violate mine safety laws. The agency determined that persistent violations of mine safety rules contributed to the explosion, and it sought to crack down on repeat violators with heightened enforcement actions.

Under the rule, mines identified as having a pattern of violations are subject to increased enforcement scrutiny. The coal entities challenging the rule claim the streamlined process violates a mining company's due process rights because MSHA could slow or stall operations without giving the company an opportunity to contest citations that are often overturned.

The parties have proposed filing cross-motions for summary judgment by March 4, 2019, and responses to those motions by May 3, 2019.