GOP kills effort to resurrect mine safety bill

December 8, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

7 Responses to “GOP kills effort to resurrect mine safety bill”

  1. Rob says:

    We need to get a few lobbyists “for the people” roaming the halls down there. The clock is ticking for the next disaster. And all of them will again chant, “we have to see that this never happens again.” Let’s hope Ms. Capito has a very merry christmas, and receives some cosmetics as gifts to cover that other face.

  2. PJD says:

    It is likely that, the national mood being as it is, a significant number of West Virginians are opposed to any new mine safety bills anyway. It’s a shame that this is the case .

  3. WVUlaw85 says:

    Can someone remind me why the Democratic leadership in the House waited all year and only now brought the bill to the floor, thus requiring super-majority rule suspension for its passage? Why didn’t it go through regular order?

  4. Dell Spade says:

    Miller decided for himself what was the cause of the explosion and tried to develop a plan to impose massive penalities on coal mines to fix the problem.
    POV or no POV if the mine was unsafe as MSHA now says they knew it was, MSHA could have either had more frequent inspections or closed the mine using 107(A) orders or or 103(k) orders.
    They do it to other mines every day.

  5. Penny B. says:

    I would hope that Shelley’s vote helps at least some of the coal miners who supports her to understand that she doesn’t care about the safety of coal mines – she cares about profits for coal operators. Period.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I fear you are absolutely right, Penny; but, the sad thought is that Shelley believes herself. Otherwise, how could she live with herself???

  7. pbrower2a says:

    It figures. Romney/Ryan stands for an America in which labor is not only cheap but expendable.

    Workers may have a stake in the success of the companies for which they work, but none in their degradation on behalf of the personal privilege and power of tycoons and executives.

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