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Judge extends negotiations between feds, coal company on pattern-violator rule

A federal judge has granted another 90 days for Murray Energy Corp. to negotiate a potential settlement with federal mining regulators over revisions to the pattern of violations rule.

The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail reported Dec. 19 that in a telephonic hearing, coal industry lawyers and Trump administration officials said they needed time to work out a deal. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued a rule that revised the way regulators deemed companies a pattern violator subject to more stringent enforcement.

David Zatezalo, the new head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, was reportedly briefed on the lawsuit and settlement negotiations Dec. 7 and was "still getting up to speed" on the issue. Zatezalo is the former CEO of Rhino Resources, Inc. which received two warning letters over repeated safety violations.

Both parties had previously indicated they were open to negotiating a mutually agreeable resolution to avoid further litigation but would need more time to negotiate that resolution.

MSHA debuted the rule in January 2013 in response to an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010 that killed 29 miners. The agency concluded that repeat violations of safety rules contributed to the explosion and afterward sought to crack down on repeat mine safety violations.