By plant Walter F. Roche Jr.
An administrative law judge has turned down an appeal by the Austin Powder Co. of fines imposed by a federal mining agency for violations cited in 2012 for a facility in Decatur County.
In a decision handed down earlier this month Administrative Law Judge Kenneth Andrews concluded that Austin still must pay a fine for violations cited by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
The violations were found at an explosives storage facility Austin operates on rented land in Decatur County. The land, known as Parsons Quarry, is owned by Vulcan Construction Materials
Austin is the owner of US Nitrogen which is completing construction of a more than $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility in Greene County.
Attorneys for Austin had argued that the company did not get adequate notice that it was subject to the federal agency's jurisdiction.
They noted that the same agency had vacated previous citations against Austin because of a lack of jurisdiction. The citations issued in 2008 involved lack of protective gear to protect against an electric charge causing an explosion.
Andrews, however, concluded in his 23-page decision, that federal law made it clear that Austin was indeed subject to agency regulation and the company should have been aware of it.
"A plain language reading of the Mine Act shows that MSHA has jurisdiction over the respondents leased property at Parson Quarry," Andrews wrote, adding that the language of the statute "is clear and unambiguous."
He also rejected Austin's claims that its use of the storage area was "de minimus" and not subject to agency oversight.
He ordered the two parties to confer over the next 30 days in an attempt to reach a compromise on the fines and penalties to be imposed.