‘Federal takeover of mining, quarry regs alarming’


Local quarry and mining companies have signaled the alarm over soon-to-be-imposed regulations by the federal government on their operations in October this year, citing the adverse affects of costs to comply in a short-time frame of six months.

Representatives from mining and quarry companies—Construction & Material Supply, Inc., D&J Equipment Rental, Inc., G.P.P.C., Inc., J.G. Sablan Rock Quarry, Inc., and USA Fanter, Inc.—have written to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for his help to, among others, see that the federal government provide “pre-implementation” site visits and reviews that are “free of cost.”

“…So that we can be in full compliance with their complicated regulations by their deadlines without incurring severe financial burden and expense,” the companies said in an April 27 to Torres. “Without your help, the entire mining and quarrying industry will suffer, and along with it, so will economic development in the CNMI.”

Comments from the Torres administration were requested, but not immediately available as of press time.

In 2015, federal officials held a meeting on Saipan with all quarry and mine operators, informing them that the federal government would begin regulating quarries and mines in the CNMI in five years, or 2020, the companies said.

“Those plans drastically changed. At an MSHA-sponsored training last month, all quarry and mine operators were informed that MSHA would begin enforcement in October 2016—six months from now.”

The federal officials were from the U.S. Mining Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. The officials were MSHA national manager Kevin Deel and MSHA district manager of Western District M/NM Wyatt Andrews.

The companies also challenge the authority of federal government to regulate CNMI’s mines and quarries, suggesting that federal law may not apply to the NMI.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 or Public Law 91-13, as amended by Public Law 95-164, establishes mandatory health and safety standards to govern the nations’ mines.

Pursuant to the Act, “State” includes: “a State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.”

And while the Northern Marianas Islands were at one point part of the Trust Territory, the companies said, the islands became a U.S. commonwealth in 1978, opening up the issue of whether the Act even applies to the CNMI today.

“We are no longer a Trust Territory and there is no language within the Act indicating that Congress intended to bind the islands even if the political relationship or status with the U.S. changed,” the companies said.

The companies also note that there has never been formal MSHA presence in the NMI since the termination of the trusteeship arrangement.

They said that only in April 2016 did MSHA require all quarry and mine operators to attend and educational outreach program.

The companies called this training “sadly condensed, bereft of useful content, and far inferior” to training that the federal government provides to the rest of the U.S.

“It was clearly an ‘information dump’ on all quarry and mine operators in the CNMI,” they said, “done more to regulate rather than help us understand and implement these complex and costly regulatory burdens.”

The companies ask Torres for his help to ensure that the CNMI mines and quarries receive ample time, preferably five years, to implement MSHA regulations and policies.

“We respectfully request for your assistance to keep the CNMI’s mining and quarry industry alive,” they said.

MSHA officials visited the CNMI in March, a follow-visit to their first ever visit to the islands in May 2015.

Officials held an informational meeting with companies engaging in the removal or dredging of rocks, sand (aggregate), or other minerals (including shells) from the earth, or milling such materials (including crushing, sizing, and/or similar milling processes, which are considered mining and fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. DOL-MSHA.

“We’re here to educate the mine operators, the contractors, and some people working in the operations about the Mine Act, about our jurisdiction, why we’re here, what are we going to be doing because we don’t want to come in here and start enforcement because nobody’s ready,” U.S. DOL-MSHA Western District manager Wyatt Andrews told Saipan Tribune that month.

“As far as full compliance, it’s hard to say but I’m guessing nobody is in full compliance,” Andrews said then.

“There are a couple of companies that are pretty well established like Hawaiian Rock Products. Those places like that are probably further along unlike some of the others because they are exposed, they have operations in Hawaii, where we inspect, and in Guam,” he added.

He listed safety concerns on mobile equipment, seat belts, high wall safety, back up alarms as things of priority.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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