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Federal agency moves to close Kentucky mine

By the CNN Wire Staff
The Mine Safety and Health Administration wants to shut down Freedom Energy Mining Co. mine No. 1 in Kentucky.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration wants to shut down Freedom Energy Mining Co. mine No. 1 in Kentucky.
  • Mining agency seeks injunction over failure "to follow basic safety rules"
  • It wants to close Kentucky mine until corrections are made
  • Company says it does not believe the mine is unsafe
  • Massey Energy owns mine where 29 miners died in April

(CNN) -- The federal government, in an action that it says is the first of its kind, filed a lawsuit Wednesday to close a Kentucky coal mine until its owner can make it safe for workers.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, filing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, seeks a preliminary injunction against the Freedom Energy Mining Co. mine No. 1 in Pike County. The mine is owned by Massey Energy Co.

"Freedom Energy has demonstrated time and again that is cannot be trusted to follow basic safety rules when an MSHA inspector is not at the mine," Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a statement. "If the court does not step in, somebody may be seriously injured or die."

Massey Energy also owns a coal mine in West Virginia where 29 miners died in an explosion April 5, the industry's worst disaster in 40 years. The mine had a spotty safety record before the explosion, with three deaths reported in the past 12 years.

Massey Energy has faced harsh criticism since the disaster.

The federal mine agency said Massey has failed to safeguard the Kentucky mine for proper coal dust levels, roof protection, ventilation and maintenance of electrical equipment.

Inspectors, during inspections from 2008 to 2010, issued 1,952 citations and 81 orders to Freedom Energy.

The company said Wednesday that it may idle the Kentucky operation until it meets current federal standards.

"Massey does not believe the mine is unsafe," it said in a statement. Freedom Mine No. 1 is an "older mine with extensive underground workings," the Richmond, Virginia-based company said.

"The operation has struggled to comply with newer MSHA standards," Massey said, adding that Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship recently visited the mine for a safety review. "During the safety stand-down, all underground Massey operations .... gave their miners additional safety training, and took steps to identify and correct mine hazards."

According to the MSHA, seven miners have been injured as a result of falling roofs in the past two years. Six major roof falls have occured there since August 11, the agency said.

The request for a preliminary injunction said the mine should stay closed until conditions are improved. Freedom must establish a health and safety management program, the agency said.