Senator John Thune
Over the past year, my staff and I have continually fielded concerns from South Dakota surface mine owners, operators, and employees stating that federal regulators are levying inconsistent and arbitrary mine safety inspections and citations at gravel pit sites and other surface mining operations.
Enforcement of safety regulations is important, but aggressive and irregular enforcement is causing a flurry of frivolous citations against honest, hardworking business owners. This should be concerning to individuals, businesses and even state and local government officials because such arbitrary and inconsistent regulation can force mine operators in South Dakota to close down – which only drives up costs for projects ranging from building construction to highway paving.
Many of these local businesses have expressed concerns that their economic viability is in jeopardy due to the costly arbitrary fines and citations that they continue to receive, despite having a history of adhering to safety rules and regulations.
I recently became aware of a case in which a South Dakota mine operator was cited for a broken windshield wiper on a vehicle not even being used. This type of “enforcement” is not preventing harmful work environments, but instead, preventing economic growth and sustainability.
After receiving countless complaints from surface mine operators last winter, I organized a meeting with the Obama administration’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regional director in Pierre to discuss these complaints. Despite this meeting, the operators’ concerns were ignored, and they continued to experience inconsistent inspections and citations. Later in the year, I sent a letter to MSHA Administrator Joe Main to address specific cases of concern, but the administration took almost four months to respond to my letter, which failed to provide any clarity on the specific concerns I outlined.
Just last month, before I finally received an answer from MSHA, I sent an official request to the Department of Labor’s Inspector General to investigate the way MSHA’s inspections are being conducted in South Dakota. Last week, MSHA Inspector General’s staff members met with my office to discuss an investigation to look into these concerns.
Work place safety certainly must be a top priority; however, I have great concerns over the treatment of South Dakota businessmen and women who have little clarity on the rules being enforced. These mine owners and operators are not seeking preferential treatment, but are simply asking for rules and regulations to be clearly defined, and fairly and consistently enforced. I will continue to press the administration until South Dakota surface mine operators’ concerns are addressed.