CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) A coal company belonging to Bob Murray, the mine owner who entered the national spotlight last year when nine people died in a Utah mine, was fined $1.46 million Wednesday by federal regulators for safety violations at an Illinois operation.
Murray Energy's Galatia Mine in southern Illinois repeatedly ignored safety regulations between September 2007 and January, leading to nine citations for flagrant violations, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said. Galatia is operated by Murray subsidiary American Coal Co.
"American Coal Co. repeatedly demonstrated its failure to comply with basic safety laws over a number of months," MSHA director Richard Stickler said in a statement.
Murray blasted the MSHA, calling the fines politically motivated retaliation for the company's decision to ask the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the agency's actions at Galatia.
"The company has documented numerous incidences in its complaint to the inspector general that MSHA has violated its own regulations and 'made up the rules as they see fit,"' Murray said in a statement.
Murray said it is contesting the fines, which it called "one more example of MSHA trying to rehabilitate its own public image at the expense of mining companies and business." An MSHA spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Ohio-based Murray also owns the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah, where six miners and three would-be rescuers were killed by cave-ins in August 2007. MSHA fined Murray $1.6 million for violations that investigators determined directly contributed to the deaths of the six miners. It also asked federal prosecutors to consider criminal charges.
Inspectors found numerous problems at the Galatia Mine, including pre-shift safety inspections that missed crumbling roof material and the accumulation of combustible materials, MSHA said.
In another instance, an inspector watched as a maintenance supervisor reached into an energized 480-volt electrical panel, saying he was "taking a shortcut," MSHA said. That violation led to a $161,800 fine for failing to de-energize the panel first.
MSHA said highly combustible coal dust was allowed to accumulate along conveyer belts. Conveyers can spark coal mine fires that sometimes lead to deadly explosions.
At Crandall Canyon, MSHA concluded the collapse was caused by aggressive mining that carved out too much coal and overloaded roof supports. The agency itself was faulted by the Department of Labor for lax oversight before the collapse and for its handling of the rescue.
The Labor Department report also criticized Bob Murray's volatile behavior during the crisis, especially at daily briefings for family members. It took intervention by Sheriff Lamar Guymon to finally keep Murray out of the family meetings.
Crandall Canyon has since been sealed, but Murray still produces about 30 million tons of coal annually from complexes in Utah, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky.