Federal mine safety official accused Trump of illegally putting miners in danger

Federal mine safety official accused Trump of illegally putting miners in danger
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A former member of the independent federal commission overseeing mine safety accused the Trump administration in a scathing report of endangering the lives of mine workers.

The report from Robert Cohen, a George W. Bush appointee who was kept in his post on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission by an appointment by former President Obama, said Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaSasse calls on DOJ to investigate its handling of wealthy sex offender's plea deal Accusers won't testify for now against wealthy sex offender: report Lawmakers call for investigation into Labor Secretary Acosta for sex offender plea deal MORE has cut back on worker safety rules, NBC News reported Monday. 

Acosta threatens to undermine the "most powerful tool for protecting the lives of the nation's miners,” Cohen wrote in a dissent to the Trump administration's decision to ease tough regulations against the Pocahontas Coal Company’s Affinity Mine in West Virginia that was repeatedly cited for safety concerns. 

Cohen's six-year term on the panel ended last month.

The Labor Department announced a settlement agreement with Pocahontas on Aug. 31 that would pull back on enforcement actions against the mines after almost five years of violations and lift a “pattern of violations” notice.

The same facility was hit with a citation days later on Sept. 5 for failing to protect workers from threats related to falling “roof, race and ribs,” NBC News reported.

Cohen said that the coal company agreed to drop its legal proceedings against the administration in exchange for the deal.

The Hill has reached out to The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration for comment.

Cohen tore into the agreement and the administration’s “corrupted reading” of the law, according to NBC.

“As an independent agency charged with reviewing enforcement actions brought by the Secretary, this Commission should not assent to such an illegal act," Cohen wrote.

The Pocahontas mining facility has provided no evidence that it cooperated with federal law enough to have the pattern of violations notice removed, he argued.

He also said the coal company and the administration "attempted to shield their actions from the public by initially filing pleadings for us in secret."

"Abandoning the [pattern of violation] regulation's strict application sends the dangerous message that an operator who has chronically disregarded safety, thus gaining an unfair advantage over safer competitors in the process, may nevertheless obtain reprieve from the Mine Act's heaviest sanctions by the grace of a friendly administration no longer committed to enforcing these sanctions,” he continued.

Public records obtained by NBC News found that Affinity Mine received 17 significant citations since the beginning of July.

United Coal Company, which operates the Pocahontas mines, said Affinity Mine’s safety record and the rate of citations “improved dramatically since 2013.”

"United Coal Company and their operating subsidiaries view safety as their most important value," said Paul Konstanty, the company’s vice-president and general counsel. "Affinity Coal Company and its management team have put policies and practices in place to ensure that it complies with Federal and State law, and is the safest mine it can be."

Konstanty argued in a statement that “significant and substantial” classifications for violations can be misleading.

"The issuance of ‘S&S’ citations does not mean that an accident or injury is probable, or even more likely than not to occur. For example, on a surface mine operation, the failure to wear a seat belt in a vehicle is an ‘S&S’ violation,” he said.