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Federal Court Declines to Force Mine Agency to Create Virus Rule

July 16, 2020, 9:28 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined to force the nation’s mine safety regulator to create an emergency temporary standard to protect mine workers from Covid-19.

In a Thursday order, U.S. Circuit judges David S. Tatel, Thomas B. Griffith, and Patricia A. Millett, said “MSHA has assured the court that it views its existing standards as imposing COVID-related duties on mine operators and that it is issuing citations with respect to COVID-related violations.”

The latest development follows the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the AFL-CIO labor federation’s request to compel the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from the novel coronavirus.

The United Mine Workers of America International Union and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers jointly filed a petition June 16 seeking a court order forcing the Mine Safety and Health Administration to create an emergency standard.

MSHA immediately rejected the calls for a new standard and, in a June filing, said that asking the agency to issue an emergency standard “would not guarantee an effective response to COVID-19, and in fact could have the opposite effect.”

There are so many differences among mines—such as size, geologies, and mining methods—and among infectious diseases, that a broad emergency temporary standard would be ineffective, the agency said in response to the union’s petition. “MSHA has decades of experience regulating mines, and it knows its needs for executing its mission. An ETS for COVID-19 is not one of them.”

A representative from MSHA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Representatives from the unions weren’t immediately available.

The case is In re: United Mine Workers of America, et al, D.C. Cir., No. 20-01215, 7/16/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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