Thunder Basin Coal Co. v. Reich, 510 U.S. 200, 11 (1994)

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Opinion of the Court

then-existing enforcement measures.12 Under existing legislation,13 civil penalties were not always mandatory and were too low to compel compliance, and enforcement was hobbled by a cumbersome review process.14

Congress expressed particular concern that under the previous Coal Act mine operators could contest civil-penalty assessments de novo in federal district court once the administrative review process was complete, thereby "seriously hamper[ing] the collection of civil penalties." 15 Concluding

12 In February 1972, for example, 125 persons were killed when a mine dam broke at Buffalo Creek in West Virginia. Leg. Hist. 592. See generally G. Stern, The Buffalo Creek Disaster (1976). Ninety-one miners died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation in May 1972 at the Sunshine Silver Mine in Idaho. In July 1972, nine miners were killed in a mine fire in Blacks-ville, W. Va., and in March 1976, 23 miners and 3 federal inspectors died in methane gas explosions at the Scotia coal mine in Kentucky. Ibid.

The House and Senate Committee Reports observed that these accidents resulted from hazards that were remediable and that in many cases already had been the object of repeated enforcement efforts. See generally Leg. Hist. 362, 371, 592-593, 637. The 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster, for example, occurred after the mine had been assessed over $1.5 million in penalties, "not one cent of which had been paid." Id., at 631. Sixty-two ventilation violations were noted in the two years prior to the Scotia gas explosions, but the imposed penalties failed to coerce compliance. Id., at 629-630.

13 The 1977 Mine Act renamed and amended the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (Coal Act), 91 Stat. 1290, and repealed the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966, id., at 1322.

14 The Senate Report found it "unacceptable that years after enactment of these mine safety laws . . . [m]ine operators still find it cheaper to pay minimal civil penalties than to make the capital investments necessary to adequately abate unsafe or unhealthy conditions, and there is still no means by which the government can bring habitual and chronic violators of the law into compliance." Leg. Hist. 592; see also id., at 597.

15 Id., at 633. The Senate Report explained: "The Committee firmly believes that to effectively induce compliance, the penalty must be paid by the operator in reasonably close time proximity to the occurrence of the underlying violation. A number of problems with the current penalty assessment and collection system interfere with this. Final determinations of penalties are not self-enforcing, and opera-

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