Coal Tattoo

Sen. Rockefeller introduces new mine safety bill

This just in from the office of West Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator:

Senator Jay Rockefeller today announced that he is reintroducing his landmark mine safety legislation with new provisions aimed at fixing more of the glaring safety issues revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 miners in Montcoal, West Virginia.

The bill includes some provisions similar to those in the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act of 2011, but also includes these new components:

— Prohibits Mine Operators from Keeping Two Sets of Books. This provision directly addresses the fact that Massey had two sets of books at Upper Big Branch and was not properly sharing information about the condition of the mine with MSHA. These are changes based on the recommendations of the UMWA in their report, and deals with issues that many of the reports highlighted.

— Establishes Strict Penalties for Unsafe Ventilation Changes. Investigations conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the United Mine Workers of America, and the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel determined that Massey made multiple illegal ventilation changes at Upper Big Branch mine without any approval. Reduced ventilation can lessen clean air flow in the mines and increase the likelihood of explosions. The bill would severely penalize mine companies with up to $220,000 in fines for such flagrant violations that could seriously harm miners just trying to do their jobs.

— Limits Miners’ Exposure to Black Lung Disease. This debilitating disease is on the rise among a new generation of coal miners. Specifically, the provision would require that MSHA issue a rule within six months – a rule that is long overdue – to lower exposure levels to respirable dust which would provide the maximum feasible protection that is achievable through environmental controls. It would also require that MSHA reexamine the incidence of black lung disease every five years and, unless there is a decline in black lung, update the regulations again. More than 70 percent of the victims tested at Upper Big Branch were determined to have signs of black lung disease.

— Improves Federal and State Coordination to Combat Safety Violations. The Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel recommended that federal and state agencies immediately work together to address safety problems at mines right after they are found out, and this provision would strongly encourage such actions.

— Improves Mine Safety Technology and Enhances Safety Training. Providing miners, operators, and regulators with the most up-to-date safety training and information about conditions inside mines is essential to preventing explosions and keeping miners safe. This legislation entitles miners to quarterly training on the use of emergency oxygen supplies under real-world operating conditions, and also requires the installation of “black box” technology on mining equipment to measure methane, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and coal dust levels.

UPDATED I’ve posted a copy of the legislation here.

Sen. Rockefeller said:

My new bill includes important pieces from my previous mine safety legislation, which I’ve been fighting to pass in Congress. It also includes new provisions that specifically address problems that the investigations into the tragedy at Upper Big Branch brought to light. This bill, which would make sure that such glaring violations are never overlooked in the future, is critical to providing the maximum level of protection for our nation’s miners and their families. Our miners deserve our full support, and it’s outrageous that Congress has yet to pass such important reforms.