Twentymile Coal Co. cited

Emergency response plan fails to meet federal standards

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File photo

A cloud of dust rises off of a pile of coal at the Twentymile Coal Company as a front end loader moves it from one place to another in December 2006. The company has been cited for failing to file an acceptable emergency response plan.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has cited Twentymile Coal Co. for a failure to file an acceptable emergency response plan for its Foidel Creek Mine in Routt County. Out of 455 underground coal mines in the United States, Twentymile is the only one without an approved emergency response plan, the MSHA said.

The Foidel Creek Mine provides coal to the Hayden Station power plant, among other locations. The citation was issued because the mine's plan failed to provide sources of breathable air to sustain miners who could be trapped underground, according to an MSHA statement released Wednesday.

"Congress mandated that every underground coal mine have an approved emergency response plan in place to protect miners in the event of an accident," MSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Richard E. Stickler said. "MSHA takes this requirement very seriously and will take action against any mine owner who fails to comply with the provisions of the complete emergency response plan."

Twentymile Coal Co. is a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy. A spokesman with the company questioned the MSHA citation.

"Twentymile believes it has submitted a very progressive plan and believes MSHA has approved similar plans at other operations," Peabody spokesman Derrell Carter said Thursday. "Twentymile continues to work with the agency via its formal review process to come to a resolution that meets our collective standards for the maximum safety of our employees. We are surprised that MSHA has chosen to issue a press release while the matter is still pending."

Dick Conkle, Twentymile's safety director, was reached Thursday but deferred all comment to Carter. MSHA spokesman Matthew Faraci was also reached but said he would not answer questions until Friday. It was unclear how much Twentymile could be fined for the citation, or if mine officials could be punished in any other way.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said he was discouraged after learning of the citation Thursday. Vale declined to comment further until learning more about the citation.

According to data available on MSHA's Web site, there were 22 injuries at Twentymile's Foidel Creek Mine through the second quarter of this year, none fatal. In that same period, the mine was fined more than $35,000 for proposed federal penalties. The mine was fined almost $60,000 for proposed penalties last year, its highest amount since 1996. Many of the proposed penalties are still pending resolution. Twentymile Coal Co. has so far paid $6,758 for fines assessed this year, and $41,352 for fines assessed in 2006, according to the MSHA.

There have been no deaths at the mine since 1995, the earliest year with available data.

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