Original Sixteen to One Mine, Inc., has experienced unreasonable heavy-handed enforcement by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for the past two years. Note: Article includes the prepared opening statment for the hearing held on January 17, 2001.
Original Sixteen to One Mine, Inc. (Pacific Exchange symbol OAU), has experienced unreasonable heavy-handed enforcement by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for the past two years (see ICMJ January 2000 issue). The publicly listed company operates a traditional underground gold mine, which has continually produced gold since 1896. Federal law stipulates a complex method for operators to challenge violations of MSHA regulations. Most companies pay the penalties associated with alleged violations as an expedient and cost efficient practice.
Until we in the mining industry question unreasonable enforcement, we will be regulated unreasonably. I refused the last minute MSHA offer to accept less charges and fines and reluctantly elected to fight the unfounded allegations. I had no choice if I was going to keep this mine operational and the the miners employed. When Homestake Mining closes its operation in Lead, South Dakota, we will be the last deep-vein mine working in North America. It is a sad time for mining in America.
Prepared Opening Statement of Michael M. Miller
MSHA Hearing of January 17, 2001
First of all, I would like to thank the MSHA agency and the Administrative Judge for allowing us to have this hearing in Downieville. It is a tremendous burden on a small mine to have people traveling distances and we are, quite frankly, not used to it. Our position is threefold.
Number one, the facts regarding the lay of the land or the mine site do not support the issuance of these citation. MSHA agents base these citations on opinion, not fact.
Number two, the standards cited are inconsistently defined, enforced and applied. The mine inspectors lack the training and experience to properly evaluate conditions at the Sixteen to One Mine, and perhaps certain inspectors do not have the required background to interpret how the standards apply at out underground gold mine as required.
Third, another agenda in addition to the presumed purpose of miners' safety may exist. The other agenda is something we are still trying to determine or find out. Is the mission of agents Bruce Allard and Curt Petty solely within the purview of these isolated inspectors? Is the Field Office in Vacaville following agency procedures? Is the District Office following approved procedures or perhaps is it federal policy flowing from MSHA National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.?
In recent past, our company employed ten times the number of miners that we have had during the time period of these citations, and we have moved ten times the amount of rock. From 1985 to 1997, there were about 83 citations issued to Original Sixteen to One Mine, the operator of the mine or its lessees. In the past couple of years we have been issued 86 citations. I refer anyone interested in this to the MSHA website, where against our wishes, citations are listed even if they are contested and unproven.
Any and all of our questions of witnesses are aimed to make certain points. We will explore various ways to do this. We will be isolating specific facts. MSHA policies, mining definitions, process, lack of training and psychological profiling.
The main justification for MSHA existence is described in The Act. Congress declared that the first priority and concern for the mining industry must be the health and safety of its most precious resource-the miner. If as we have experienced at our mine, safety is no longer treated as the primary driving force, we in the mining industry need to know. Is it the collection of revenue, as some have suggested? Is it the control over natural resources? Are others using MSHA for some other obscure way of getting environmental results? Or, have written citations become the way for individuals to move into higher positions themselves, and greater pay?
If, after this hearing is complete, these alleged violations of regulations stand, we will have pointed out that never has there been made available to the operator that there was an overriding problem of safety that needed to be corrected at the mine. We will reveal so many first time events and new agents coming into Alleghany from all over the country. It may become obvious in this hearing, or it may not, that there has been an attempt by MSHA to basically overwhelm us. We may cite The Act, which says that Congress explicitly requires MSHA to recognize small mining operations and give them special consideration. An example-as late as yesterday, a special agent was arriving from Washington to hand deliver two citations at noon today during a very crucial and important hearing (see footnote).
We are wondering if MSHA is exercising arbitrary or selective enforcement. Do other mine operators and miners have similar issues? We are wondering about the criteria and the rationale behind the multiple citations that we've received, and also those that have been written yet subsequently dismissed by MSHA attorneys after we complained.
The owners, management and miners of this mine speak as one. Miners and management feel MSHA has kept them off guard, that MSHA is an agency which is actually bringing about poor safety at the Sixteen to One because of its behavior. We don't know the answers; that's why we have to ask the questions. Perhaps it is just a personal sense of power within a federal agency out of control. Everything the Original Sixteen to One Mine does in the next two days is tied to the above quest-to seek truth and justice regarding our treatment by MSHA and the treatment in the mining industry.
One of my problems today is that I am so close to the issues. I want to add that this also is my greatest asset during this hearing. Therefore, I ask for forgiveness and understanding in advance for likely shortcomings in my actions.
Safety has been the utmost concern of everyone at the Sixteen to One Mine. That will be demonstrated through our witnesses. Time and again MSHA has overruled our policies and enforced unsafe practices at the mine. One of my greatest requests today is to not be rushed.
Footnote: At noon on the opening day of the hearing, MSHA Special Agent Steve Cain arrived from Washington at the Downieville Courthouse to present Original Sixteen to One Mine, Inc., two citations relating to a fatality at the mine that occurred on November 6, 2000. Miller continues to question the timing and motive of this hand deliver.