Coal company reputation

Good news from the SEC for a change! They’re requiring coal plant operators to report health and safety violations, including fatalities, within a few days of occurence.

FuelFix posted from AP on 23 December 2011, SEC requiring coal firms to report safety problems

Earlier this week, the SEC announced new rules that require mining companies to start reporting any fatalities and all major health and safety violations, mine by mine, in their quarterly and annual financial reports. The filings are mandated in the wide-ranging Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Congress passed to try to increase corporate accountability.

The rules take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. They require companies to report within four days any “significant and substantial” violations, citations, flagrant violations and imminent-danger orders issued by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Coal operators must also include the dollar value of proposed fines, whether the company has been or may be designated a pattern violator by MSHA, and any pending cases with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

What problem does this reporting solve? As the article points out:
A lawyer suing the former Massey Energy Co. says investors might have made better decisions about putting money into the coal company had it been required to report safety violations to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission before last year’s Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners.

Instead, New York attorney Joel Bernstein says, shareholders relied on Massey’s false claims that it had launched initiatives to make safety a priority after earlier accidents.

“They told the public, they told the employees and they told the investors they were doing it,” he says, “and they didn’t.”

How do we know it will work? The National Mining Association (MSHA) opposes it. MSHA claims they have a publicly searchable database and that’s enough. Fox. Henhouse.

It will also be interesting to see if SEC does anythign about violations. The U.S. Department of Justice is just washing away violations:

Earlier this month, Alpha reached a $210 million settlement with the Department of Justice that spares the corporation criminal prosecution for the 29 deaths in April 2010. Individuals, however, can still be prosecuted.

The settlement wiped out 370 safety violations related to the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades.

That’s not justice. That’s crony capitalism.

But at least if SEC really makes the mine operators report what it says they should report, shareholders can provide their own justice by bailing out of bad operators.