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Department of Environmental Protection v. Cumberland Coal Resources, LP

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

September 24, 2014

DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, Appellant
v.
CUMBERLAND COAL RESOURCES, LP AND AMFIRE MINING CO., LLC, Appellees; DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, Appellant
v.
EMERALD COAL RESOURCES, LP AND CUMBERLAND COAL RESOURCES, LP, Appellees

Argued October 15, 2013

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Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered September 20, 2011 at No. 495 CD 2010, affirming the Order of Environmental Hearing Board entered March 16, 2010 at Nos. 2009-068-L, 2009-069-L, 2009-070-L, 2009-071-L, 2009-072-L, 2009-082-L, 2009-139-L, 2009-140-L.

Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered September 20, 2011 at No. 764 CD 2010, affirming the Order of Environmental Hearing Board entered March 30, 2010 at Nos. 2009-023-L, 2009-040-L.

For Department of Environmental Protection, APPELLANT: Mary Martha Truschel, Esq., Dennis A. Whitaker, Esq., PA Department of Environmental Protection.

For Emerald Coal Resources, et al., APPELLEE: Patrick Wayne Dennison, Esq., Jessica Maria Jurasko, Esq., Arthur Max Wolfson, Esq., Ralph Henry Moore II, Esq., Jackson Kelly, P.L.L.C.

MADAME JUSTICE TODD. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Mr. Chief Justice Castille and Messrs. Justice Eakin, Baer, McCaffery and Stevens join the opinion. Mr. Justice Saylor files a concurring opinion.

OPINION

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MADAME TODD, JUSTICE

In this appeal by allowance, we consider, inter alia, the scope of the authority of the Department of Environmental Protection (" DEP" ) to issue administrative orders under the Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act.[1] For the reasons that follow, we find that the DEP acted within its authority with respect to the orders it issued regarding certain failures to report accidents, but that it improperly issued other orders with respect to requiring fire extinguishers on certain mining vehicles. Thus, we reverse in part, and affirm in part, the order of the Commonwealth Court.

Before we consider the specifics of this appeal, a brief overview of the law concerning mine safety in our Commonwealth is in order. Historically, and not surprisingly, the mining of underground coal in Pennsylvania has been widely considered a dangerous endeavor. While significant improvements in mining safety have been achieved over the years, the recent events at the 2002 Quecreek Mine accident in Somerset County Pennsylvania, where nine miners were trapped for three days in a flooded mine shaft, made manifest the continued perilousness of mining. While the federal government regulates mining in Pennsylvania through the Mine Safety and Health Administration Act, as amended by the Mine Improvement Emergency Response Act, [2] state governments are permitted to regulate mining as well, and our Commonwealth has done so for over 100 years.

Specifically, the progenitor of Pennsylvania's Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act, entitled the Bituminous Coal Mine Act, was originally codified in 1883. The most recent version of the statute was drafted in 1961 and constituted the first comprehensive mining legislation designed to regulate mining safety practices. The 1961 version of the Act included various provisions concerning safety, including inspectors being tasked with inspecting mines on a regular basis, with the ultimate purpose being to protect the health and safety of miners.

In 2008, after years of work among industry, workers, and government representatives, the retitled " Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act of 2008" (" Mine Safety

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Act" or " Act" ), at issue herein, was unanimously enacted by the General Assembly. Stressing the theme of the statute, the legislature's findings declared that the " first priority and concern of all in the bituminous coal mining industry must be the health and safety of those who work in and at mines and others in and about mines." 52 P.S. § 690-103(a)(1). Consistent therewith, the General Assembly added to the multiple declared purposes of the Act, including " [t]o use the full extent of the Commonwealth's powers to protect the lives, health and safety of miners and others in and about underground bituminous coal mines." Id. § 690-103(b)(1).

Three aspects of the recent legislation are particularly noteworthy for purposes of the matter before us. First, pursuant to Section 109 of the Mine Safety Act, mine operators must notify the DEP of " accidents" that occur at their mines, within 15 minutes of the discovery of the accident. 52 P.S. § 690-109(a)(1). Unlike its predecessor, the Act provides a broad definition to the operative term " accident" as follows:

" Accident." An unanticipated event, including any of the following:
(1) A death of an individual at a mine.
(2) An injury to an individual at a mine, which has a reasonable potential to cause death.
(3) An entrapment of an individual at a mine which has a reasonable potential to cause death or serious injury.
(4) An unplanned inundation of a mine by a liquid or a gas.
(5) An unplanned ignition or explosion of gas or dust.
(6) An unplanned mine fire not extinguished within ten minutes of discovery.
(7) An unplanned ignition or explosion of a blasting agent or an explosive.
(8) An unplanned roof fall at or above the anchorage zone in active workings where roof bolts are in use.
(9) An unplanned roof or rib fall in active workings that impairs ventilation or impedes passage.
(10) A coal or rock outburst that causes withdrawal of miners or which disrupts regular mining activity for more than one hour.
(11) An unstable condition at an impoundment or refuse pile which does any of the following:
(i) Requires emergency action in order to prevent failure.
(ii) Causes individuals to evacuate an area.
(12) Failure of an impoundment or refuse pile.
(13) Damage to hoisting equipment in a shaft or slope which endangers an individual or which interferes with use of the equipment for more than 30 minutes.
(14) An event at a mine which causes death or bodily injury to an individual not at the mine at the time the event occurs.

52 P.S. § 690-104.

Second, the Mine Safety Act requires certain vehicles to carry portable fire extinguishers. Specifically, " [e]ach track or off-track locomotive, self-propelled mantrip car or personnel carrier shall be equipped with one portable fire extinguisher." 52 P.S. § 690-273(f).

Third, the Act created the Board of Coal Mine Safety (" Safety Board" or " Board" ), which was established to provide the means to rapidly respond to changes in mining technology and conditions. 52 P.S. ยง 690-106. The Board, comprised of seven members representing the DEP, workers, and ...


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