Coal Tattoo

GOP kills effort to resurrect mine safety bill

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives just blocked efforts by Democratic leaders to resurrect a major mine safety reform bill before the end of the year and the GOP takeover of the House in 2011.

House Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., had sought to suspend House rules and bring the pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act. to the floor for a vote.

The vote was 214 to 193, with 26 members not voting, well short of the two-thirds needed for the rules suspension.

According to the official roll call vote, only one Republican voted to bring up the bill. West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall voted in favor, while Republican Shelley Moore Capito voted against. Democrat Alan Mollohan, who lost his re-election bid, did not vote.

Capito voted against this just two days after her office issued a statement commemorating “National Miners Day,” an occasion she used to attack the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on mountaintop removal mining:

Recently, the mining industry has been under attack by the Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Policies like cap-and-trade directly threaten the livelihood of the coal industry, while the EPA’s decision to stall and even repeal approved mining permits throughout Appalachia has led to a slow bleed of jobs in our state.

In a statement today, Rep. Capito had this to say:

In all, the Democrats bill being considered today does little to address mine safety, but rather imposes severe penalties on businesses, introduces dramatic regulatory changes, and promotes unnecessary litigation which will hurt those mines and miners operating in good faith on behalf of worker safety.

Miller outlined how the legislation could have helped prevent the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine last April:

Current law on “patterns of violations” has so many loopholes that it invites delays and allows some coal mine operators to game the system.

Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine was a perfect example of an operator repeatedly skirting the law and putting workers’ lives in the crosshairs.

The Upper Big Branch mine was subject to 515 violations and 54 withdrawal orders in 2009, more than any other mine in the country. Red flags were waving about this mine’s repeated unwarrantable failures.

And yet, because Massey indiscriminately appealed many of these violations, it evaded stronger sanctions that would have improved conditions and saved lives.

The bill sets clear and fair criteria to identify mines with significant safety problems and eliminate the incentives for mine owners that game the system.

Had this been in place, I believe the 29 miners who lost their lives at Upper Big Branch would be alive today.

And, Miller, said the bill included important improvements to protect miners who speak out about safety problems, grant federal investigators more powers to demand information after mine accidents, require MSHA to conduct weekend and night-shift inspections, and toughen criminal penalties for mine safety violations. Miller said:

The bill is the result of months of deliberations with stakeholders and experts, including miners, families, academics, state officials, and various sectors of the mining industry.

This legislation is part of our ongoing commitment to the families of the Aracoma, Sago, Crandall Canyon, Darby, and now Upper Big Branch mine disasters – that their loved ones’ deaths will not be in vain – that their calls for change will be heeded.