A lawyer has responded to two California representatives on behalf of three Kentucky mine operators.

In June, Congressmen George Miller and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey sent a letter to Jack Ealy and Ralph Napier, the president and vice president of K and D Mining, as well as John North of Jackrock, LLC. They wanted the mine operators to submit a plan to pay the $1.568 million currently owed to the federal government for mine safety violations.

In the response, Lexington attorney Billy Shelton calls into question the legitimacy of the violations incurred at K & D's Mine Number 17 in Harlan County. “As for the violations at K &D, my clients believe that many of the unwarrantable failure violations are not supported by facts and law,” Shelton writes.

He says the mine operators haven't paid the penalties, instead spending money on employees' salaries and benefits, as well as mine safety and other operational costs. And then he basically tells Miller and Woolsey not to expect the money anytime soon.

In your correspondence you requested a plan of action to address safety compliance at the mine and to address the outstanding civil penalty issue. At this point, K & D is closing the mine and laying off approximately 40 employees. K & D plans to submit documents to MSHA formalizing its plan to pull out of the mine and abandon its operations there. As for the outstanding civil penalties, the entities do not have the ability to pay the civil penalties now and/or in the foreseeable future.

A spokesman for the Democrats of the House Education and Workforce Committee says the response “raises serious questions on whether we have the proper tools to collect fines well after they have been completely adjudicated.”