MSHA to Strengthen Scofflaw Program in order to Enforce Collection of Fines
In an op-ed published on March 6th, 2018 in the Wheeling News Register, Assistant secretary for MSHA, David Zatezalo, announced plans to prioritize the collection of unpaid MSHA fines through the agency’s scofflaw program. The MSHA Scofflaw Program was initiated in 2007 to pursue payment of unpaid MSHA fines, and the program is not simply a warning. The Scofflaw Program is an enforcement tool intended to pursue those mines and contractors who fail to pay MSHA fines, and demonstrate egregious non-compliance with the Mine Act. In these cases, MSHA works with the Department of Labor to determine whether traditional collection actions are appropriate, or if citations and/or shutdown orders should be issued. According to Mr. Zatezalo, around $67 million of unpaid MSHA fines have accrued, and it is the job of MSHA to enforce collection of the unpaid fines. Mr. Zatezalo reinforced that the agency will pursue collection of unpaid fines to the fullest extent of the law. Specifically, mines can be issued citations for failing to pay delinquent MSHA fines, and in the most serious of cases, orders can be issued to shut down production at the mine until arrangement for payment is agreed upon between the mine and MSHA. Mr. Zatezalo further stressed that even in the case of a production shutdown, miners will continue to be paid. The program apparently has not been utilized to the fullest extent since its inception. According to Mr. Zatezalo, MSHA has issued 16 citations since 2007 for failure to pay MSHA fines, and five orders requiring a mine to shut down production.
This announcement indicated that a good faith showing by a mine operator to arrange for payment of past due fines would protect against enforcement action. Therefore, it is unlikely that a citation or shutdown order will be issued prior to any attempt to arrange for payment or a payment schedule. This message reflects an air of cooperation that many believe to be building between the agency and mine operators throughout the country.