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House approves more mine safety funding

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Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives were able to block passage of a mine safety reform package yesterday, but the full House did approve additional mine safety money in a spending bill.

According to House Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., the Full-year Continuing Appropriations Act includes:

— An increase of $5.3 million for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which will enable the agency to hire an additional ten administrative law judges to hear cases. The backlog of cases at the Review Commission – now approximately 19,000, has given incentives for mine operators to abuse this appeals process because it can delay steeper penalties for repeat violators and evade pattern of violations sanctions.

— An additional $24 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, $15 million to support backlog reduction.

Miller said:

In light of Republicans voting to block mine safety reform today, these are important investments needed to improve mine safety. Among other efforts, this increased funding will help to make a meaningful dent in the crippling backlog of 19,000 mine owner appeals of health and safety violations.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis issued this statement about the House’s failure to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010:

I am deeply disappointed that the House of Representatives today failed to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010 under suspension of the rules. This commonsense legislation, championed by Chairman George Miller of the Education and Labor Committee, would be an important step forward in strengthening safety laws for our nation’s miners.

The measure would compel the worst of the worst in the mining industry to change how they treat their miners.

Despite the outcome of today’s vote in the House, it is important to note that a majority of the members showed they have run out of patience with those mine operators who refuse to take the safety and health of miners seriously.

As this Congress winds down, the tremendous need for this legislation continues. Every day the lives of miners are needlessly being put at risk. That should be unacceptable to every single member of Congress.

All workers deserve to come home safe at the end of a shift. I urge every legislator to join the president and me in committing to bringing miners the safety reforms they deserve.

And Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the ranking GOP member of the House Labor Committee, had this to say about the legislation’s defeat:

It is always unfortunate when opportunities for bipartisan agreement fall victim to partisan politics. Democrats designed today’s vote on a mine safety bill to fail, demonstrating yet again the Majority’s contempt for the legislative process. Republicans have made clear our willingness to work in good faith to address weaknesses in the law governing mine safety and its enforcement by federal officials. However, we do not believe it is possible to effectively respond to the worst mining disaster in 40 years without a full understanding of its causes. Rather than waiting for the results of the numerous ongoing investigations, Democrats cobbled together a flawed bill and set it up for defeat. This is no way to improve mine safety.

Improving mine safety is an ongoing goal, but one that has gained new urgency in the wake of the Upper Big Branch explosion and other recent mining fatalities. Republicans will continue to hold accountable the agency charged with enforcing the law and use the findings of the ongoing investigations to ensure any future legislative or regulatory steps to protect miners are well-informed.