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Cumberland Coal Resources, LP v. Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20123
Nos. 11-1464, (D.C. Cir., 06/07/2013)

The D.C. Circuit held that a mining company's failure to maintain adequate emergency lifelines in its mine's escapeways was a significant and substantial violation of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, thereby affirming the Department of Labor's Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission. 30 U.S.C. §814(d)(1) provides that a significant and substantial violation is one that is “of such nature as could significantly and substantially contribute to the cause and effect of a coal or other mine safety or health hazard.” Although §814(d)(1) does not unambiguously express Congress' intent to require decisionmakers evaluating the significant and substantial nature of emergency safety standard violations to assume the existence of the contemplated emergency, this interpretation is reasonable. Emergency safety standards are fundamentally different from non-emergency standards because they are designed to apply meaningfully only in times of emergency. If decisionmakers were commanded not to assume the existence of the contemplated emergency when evaluating the significant and substantial nature of an emergency safety standard violation, it is unlikely that any violation of those standards would ever be "significant and substantial." Because the Commission applied the correct significant and substantial standard, and because substantial evidence supports each of the significant and substantial determinations in question, the court denied the mining company's petition for review.