TRIANGLE, Va. — The president of United Mine Workers of America on Tuesday released a statement in response to a recent federal decision regarding safety practices at a Raleigh County coal mine.

In his press release, UMWA International President Cecil Roberts chastised the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s decision to release Affinity mine from the agency’s Pattern of Violations (POV) status, calling it a “dangerous step in the wrong direction for America’s coal miners.” He also said the move violates MSHA’s own rules of procedure for releasing mines from oversight because the required inspection of the mine, which is operated by Pocahontas Coal Company, apparently was not completed.

“MSHA’s release of the Affinity mine from POV status appears to violate Section 104(e)(3) of the Mine Act, which states that before a POV can be lifted from a mine, that mine must undergo an inspection of the entire mine with no S&S violations. There is no evidence that MSHA conducted such an inspection at the Affinity Mine. We sent the agency a letter more than two weeks ago asking what the legal basis was for this mine being taken off POV but have yet to receive a response,” said Roberts, adding, “Affinity had a long history of ignoring safety and health regulations leading up to its placement on POV status in 2013, including two fatal incidents within two weeks in February, 2013. Since it was placed on POV, there continued to be hundreds of Significant and Substantial (S&S) violations at the mine, 261 to be exact.”

Roberts also said in his statement that the decision by MSHA “sends a message to America’s coal miners that the federal government has forgotten that (the) most precious resource in the mine is the miner, not the coal.”