CHARLESTON (AP) - A judge has reinstated a $100,000 fine against a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary that failed to report a serious coal mine accident within 15 minutes.
Slashing the fine to $10,000 was an ''arbitrary and capricious'' decision by the state Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom said Thursday.
''How should I find that that's anything but an abuse of discretion?'' Bloom said during a brief hearing.
The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training had appealed the reduction, arguing the board lacked the authority to lower the fine. Bloom did not address that question directly, though he called it ''theoretical.''
Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said the company is weighing its options.
''We feel the board's decision was appropriate,'' he said in an e-mail.
A Massey employee played a role in cutting the fine. Board member Rick Dillon, who voted for the reduction, works for the Richmond, Va.-based company, Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training spokeswoman Jama Jarrett said.
The case was the first legal test of reporting rules adopted by West Virginia and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration after two high-profile mining accidents killed 14 West Virginians in January 2006. In one of those accidents, the Sago Mine explosion, it took more than an hour to notify state and federal regulators.
The state has issued nine other fines for late reporting since December 2006, Jarrett said. One was dismissed and the other eight have been or are being paid, she said.
Deputy state safety director C.A. Phillips said it's important that the agency's ability to enforce the rule was upheld.
The federal mine safety agency also cited Massey for failing to report the accident within 15 minutes, but has yet to assess a penalty.
The violations stem from a March 20, 2007, accident at Marfork's River Fork Powellton No. 1 mine, which Massey closed and abandoned less than a month later.
Part of the Raleigh County mine flooded when a crew cut into an abandoned section, according to MSHA's preliminary accident report. Marfork had skipped a mandatory pre-shift examination of the area and hadn't drilled test holes, according to the report.
Massey should have reported the accident by 12:19 p.m. that day.
''They did not report until over an hour later,'' Jarrett said.
Massey immediately reported a flood at another mine earlier this year, according to MSHA records.
The need to call the state's toll-free reporting hot line immediately seems to be sinking in, Phillips said.
''Why risk a violation of that amount?'' he said.
Massey, the nation's fourth-largest coal company by revenue, operates in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.