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Feds Sue to Close Massey Mine in Kentucky

The U.S. Department of Labor wants a Kentucky coal mine owned by troubled Massey Energy closed over a pattern of serious violations, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

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Harald Sund | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

The lawsuit filed by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis contends Massey subsidiary Freedom Energy's Mine No. 1 is so dangerous it should be shut down until a long list of violations are fixed.

The lawsuit is the latest serious problem for Massey, which has faced intense pressure from regulators since an explosion killed 29 men at its Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County last spring. The April 5 blast was the deadliest at a U.S. coal mine in 40 years and is the subject of criminal and civil investigations.

In a press statement Wednesday, the company acknowledged that the operation at the No. 1 mine has "struggled to comply" with new federal mine safety standards, but that the company does not believe it should be shut down permanently.

"Massey does not believe the mine is unsafe. However, due to the mine’s age and size, the company is considering idling the mine until it can ensure that the mine will meet current MSHA standards," a statement released by Massey read.

The Labor Department's lawsuit accuses Freedom of failing to do enough to prevent the mine's roof and walls from collapsing and to effectively ventilate the mine to remove methane and other gases. The lawsuit also accuses Freedom of allowing coal and other combustible materials to accumulate.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued hundreds of citations to Freedom since 2008.

"All of the conditions regularly cited by MSHA at Freedom Energy are of the type that result in fatal accidents," MSHA official Danny Deel wrote in a document filed with the lawsuit. "The operator has not demonstrated that it is attempting to achieve compliance on a daily basis."

Massey is looking into the lawsuit, spokesman Jeff Gillenwater told the Associated Press Wednesday.

"Regardless of what the complaint says, we are committed to running Freedom Energy and all our operations safely and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of our miners," Gillenwater said. "We idled all underground operations last Friday to conduct additional safety training and to identify and correct hazards."