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Agency May Not Expand Penalties Beyond What Congress Authorizes
Description Appeals court rejected a finding by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission that a coal plant operator had committed a serious infraction. The infraction involved did not involve a mandatory health or safety standard violation as required by Congress for imposition of serious infractions.
Topic Administrative Law
Key Words Standards; Violations
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Emerald operates a coal processing plant in Pennsylvania. Refuse from the plant builds up until disposed under Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (FMSHA) procedures. During bad weather, the refuse would pile up more than usual until it could be moved. After a pile of refuse had slipped into a "slurry pond," an FMSHA inspector charged Emerald with "significant and substantial" violations of safety standards. Emerald's appeal to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission was rejected. Emerald appealed to the Court of Appeals.
Decision Reversed. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act authorizes a "significant and substantial" finding only for violations of mandatory health or safety standards. The regulation that Emerald violated is not a mandatory standard, so violations may not fall in the serious category of "significant and substantial." The Commission may not expand the clear words of the statute to impose this finding in instances that do not involve mandatory health or safety standards. For the violation cited in this case, a lesser penalty may be imposed.
Citation Cyprus Emerald Resources Corp. v. FMSHRC, 195 F.3d 42 (D.C. Cir., 1999)

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