House approves more mine safety funding

December 9, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

8 Responses to “House approves more mine safety funding”

  1. Wanda says:

    Like they said the Investigation is not complete, & this is an immature bill. Think about it, & not your pocket’s with Obama.

  2. Phil Smith says:

    Ken, maybe you can remind me…how many MSHA oversight hearings did the Republicans hold while they were in the majority in the House, prior to the Sago explosion?

    Wanda, here’s the problem with waiting until one or another of the investigations into UBB are complete — then if there is any action (very uncertain with a GOP-majority House), it will be yet another mine safety bill written in the blood of miners killed on the job. The right thing to do is to get proactive and get out in front of potential safety problems to keep them from happening in the first place. That’s what the 2008-09 S-MINER Act would have enabled us to do.

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I don’t have a specific count of oversight hearings … but of course, when the Republicans took over in 1995, they started hearings on trying to get rid of MSHA altogether, and combine mine safety under OSHA.

    Readers can remind themselves of some of this history by re-reading my story for The Washington Monthly about the Bush administration and mine safety:

    As you know, after the Jim Walters disaster, there was some effort in Congress — primarily by the late Sens. Wellstone and Kennedy — to deal with mine safety oversight. But that went away after the dramatic rescue of the Quecreek miners.

    You have to wonder what would have happened if the Congress had kept focused on this from 2002-1005.


  4. observer says:

    There is much kabuki theater in all this. The bill never stood a chance of moving in the Senate, so passing it in the House would have been meaningless. Going under suspension of the rules was merely a way of getting Republicans on the record somehow. By the way, I find it striking that neither W.Va. senator has issued a press release about the House vote on the bill. Its not like they aren’t aware of House actions. In fact, I was pleased to see that Sen. Rockefeller, champion of the little guy, did have time this week to issue a press release on another bill passed by the House. Its important to have priorities, you know.


    WASHINGTON, D.C.– Senator Jay Rockefeller today applauded the House of Representatives’passage of The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM Act), which would prohibit television commercials from being played at a louder volume than the program they accompany. Rockefeller co-sponsored the bill when it passed in the U.S. Senate and is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where the bill originated. The legislation will now be sent to the President, where it is expected to be signed into law.

  5. FactsFirst says:

    Politicizing worker safety is both a distraction and a disservice. Is there any correlation between injuries and deaths at coal mines and which party controlled Congress or the White House? Should a Republican contolled Congress take credit for the downward trend in coal mine fatalities from 1995 through 2007 or should that be shared between Presidents Clinton and Bush? Should Ronald Reagan claim credit for a reduction in fatalities from 153 in 1981 to 53 in 1988 or should that credit go to Democrats in Congress? Should President Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress take credit for the lowest fatalities on record in 2009 and be blamed for 2010– a year that exceeds the sad days of 2006? Or is this something more localized–for example, WV accounts for 40% of all fatalities at coal mines nationwide over the past five years. Is that the Governor’s fault? Compare with Colorado where there has only been one fatality in the past 5 years. Should Colorado operators have to be subjected to new legislation –or for that matter operators in WV who have commendable and improving safety performance records.

  6. PJD says:


    No one is politicizing the issue. It is simply a fact that Republicans blocked a 2/3 procedural vote needed to pass a bill which a majority of Congress supported – basically showing a certain contempt for the spirit of democracy even if not the law.

    Your other points are mostly beside the point. Between 1997 until the MINER act in 2006, no new mine safety laws were passed, and MSHA remained reasonably funded in the budgets. So, there is is nothing for the Republican majority to take credit for, nor blame for.

    But one thing for sure, mine safety legislation used to be used to be bipartisan and completely non-controversial.

    As far as who is “subjected to legislation” I remind you laws always apply to everyone.

  7. FactsFirst says:

    PJD–my post was commenting on the exchange between Mr. Smith and Mr. Ward about the lack of oversight hearings when the House or Senate was controlled by the Republicans. Perhaps I read too much into the exchange but it reminded me of much of the fingerointing in the past over mine accidents and who was in charge of MSHA or Congress at the time.

    Yes, mine safety legislation in the past appeared to be bipartisan. Indeed the MINER Act was supported by both parties and if I recall by both the union and industry. The S-MINER Act was not supported by both parties or industry and did not pass.
    As for your opening comment about the recent vote “showing a certain contempt for the spirit of democracy” I called a contact in Washington to find out more about the so called procedural vote. I was told that the vote was under a procedure called suspension of the rules that only allows limited debate (20 minutes per side) and no amendments. That is why it requires 2/3 margin. Now, I ask how is bringing such an important piece of legislation up at the end of Congress under rules that limit debate and do not allow any amendments to the bill more respectful of the spirit of democracy. Mind you–this was not a vote on whether to consider proceeding to consider the bill–I am advised it was a vote on the bill itself. So perhaps many of the votes were motivated by “contempt” for the process used by the sponsors to bring it to the floor without opprotunity to debate if fully or offer any amendments. And I was told that 27 Democrats voted no. If the bill was that important to the sponsors, one might ask why wasn’t brought to the floor before the lame duck session of Congress.

  8. walnutcove says:

    Isn’t it amazing how the introduction of actual facts just seems to take the wind out of the sail. As for the legislation the previous commenter is absolutely correct. If the legislation was important to congress why wait till the last minute to try and slip a little something through with out the proper scrutiny??

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