No wonder some coal companies allow scores or even hundreds of violations of federal Mine Safety and Health Administration rules. In some ways the agency is a toothless tiger - apparently by choice.
Federal prosecutors announced recently they have dropped a complaint against the Resurrection Coal Co., which operates mines in McDowell and Wyoming counties. The decision was made after the firm paid more than $44,000 in delinquent fines and interest, levied against it because of safety infractions.
The complaint was filed in January - but some of the delinquent fines dated back to 2006. A total of 245 safety violations at the three West Virginia mines were connected to the fines.
Why on earth were federal officials so long in taking decisive action against Resurrection Coal? How many other companies are grossly delinquent in paying fines? Again, no wonder some coal operators don't seem to fear MSHA.
Simply levying fines does not mean they can be collected, of course. Coal operators can and often do appeal MSHA's decisions.
But the fact a settlement was reached within weeks of a complaint being filed in court indicates the agency has tools available to enforce safety rules. For the good of the thousands of men and women who dig coal, those tools should be employed to keep the mines safer.