Court Ruling Protects Mine Workers Against Diesel Pollution

An appeals court has ruled that safety standards set by the MSHA are reasonable for reducing diesel particulate pollution for mine workers.

An appeals court has ruled that standards set by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration for reducing diesel particulate pollution were reasonable in a recent court case decision.

A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected every argument against the pollution standards made by the National Mine Association, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and several mine operators.

“It’s a hands down victory for the safety of our members and thousands of other miners,” said Michael Wright, USW Director of Health, Safety and Environment.

“This decision was a rebuff of the mining companies and the mining associations,” he added.

The regulations will limit miners’ exposure to the particles in diesel fuel emissions from trucks and heavy equipment that operate underground in metal mines. The rules do not affect coal mines, which are subject to a different regulation.

MSHA issued the standards because the particles have been linked to lung cancer, respiratory problems and eye irritation.

The court decision, written by Judge David B. Sentelle, and joined by Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg and Senior Judge Harry T. Edwards, affects 16,000 workers at 256 mines across the country.

The mine operators and industry groups filed suit to prevent implementation of the regulations, contending MSHA did not have sufficient evidence that the tiny particles endangered workers’ health, that MSHA shouldn’t have used a substitute substance to measure the particles and that it simply was infeasible for mines to meet the MSHA limit deadlines. The USW filed a brief seeking enforcement of the regulations.

The court found that all of the mine industry arguments were without merit. As a result, the regulations will take effect over the next 15 months.

MSHA proposed the first set of rules on Jan. 19, 2001, after conducting a risk assessment that determined miners were exposed to very high levels of diesel particles that jeopardized their health.

Because diesel exhaust contains many different substances, MSHA based its limitation on a measure of carbon.  The court said that was reasonable because carbon accounts for the bulk of the particles. 

The first set of regulations limited carbon concentrations and were to take full effect by January,  2006.  MSHA offered numerous suggestions to mine operators for curtailing the particles, including exhaust filters, improved ventilation systems, low-emission engines and low sulfur fuels.

The industry may seek another hearing of the case before the same panel or could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

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