Coal Tattoo



When we last left Rep. Alex Mooney, the West Virginia Republican was voting with the state’s other House members in favor of a budget cut for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Today, Rep. Mooney is set to be pushing another mine safety measure — this one aimed at eliminating the requirement that publicly traded mining companies report certain mine safety information when they file financial disclosures with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Rep. Mooney is the lead sponsor of H.R. 4289, which was introduced just a week ago, but it on the fast track with a markup scheduled this morning in the House Financial Services Committee. It’s on a long list of nearly two dozen bills the committee plans to take up today.

It doesn’t appear that Rep. Mooney issued a press release to announce this legislation, and so far a spokesman hasn’t provided any answers to my questions about the bill.   UPDATE: See below for some answers from a spokeman for Rep. Mooney. (I did get an emailed statement in which Talley Sergent, a candidate in the Democratic primary for Rep. Mooney’s seat, criticized the legislation as an effort “to repeal crucial mine safety measures” and the congressman “a hypocrite” who “tweets condolences to deceased coal miners and then betrays their memory by repealing mine safety measures”).

Some readers may recall that these safety reporting requirements were added to mandated SEC disclosures back in 2010, after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, in a move by then-Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and as one of the last legislative actions by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

The language, added to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required mining companies to include in their SEC filings information about enforcement actions by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, safety penalties issued by MSHA, and deaths of miners at their operations.

This morning, the United Mine Workers of America released a letter that union President Cecil Roberts sent to the Financial Services Committee announcing the UMWA “wholeheartedly opposes this legislation.” The letter goes on to argue that at the time of the Upper Big Branch explosion, “the vast majority of [Massey Energy’s] shareholders had no idea about Massey’s lack of compliance with the law. Had they known, it is very possible they could have taken action to force the company to operate in a safer manner, perhaps preventing the Upper Big Branch Disaster altogether.”

The UMWA letter continues:

H.R. 4289 takes us back to the days where companies like Massey could once again hide health and safety issues from their investors and the general public. Failing to disclose adverse safety or health conditions could have a significant impact on investors, especially if there is a halt in production because a company failed in its obligation to protect its workers.  Another tragic disaster, or even the shutdown of a mine by an inspecting agency for failure to follow the law, will cost shareholders significantly.

After years of decline, coal mine fatalities are again on the rise. Indeed, West Virginia has already suffered seven fatalities this year, the most of any other state. This is no time to foll back any potential avenue to maintain pressure on corporations to follow the law.

Here are some questions I asked of Rep. Mooney’s office, and his spokesman’s responses:

I’m wondering why Rep. Mooney wants to repeal that language.

“Wall street regulators should not be responsible for monitoring or reporting mine safety conditions. The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) already regulates coal mining. Due to Obama era Dodd- Frank regulations, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is tasked with regulating Wall Street and Financial Institutions is duplicating the work of the Department of Labor.

 Miners and Mining Companies trust that the rules, regulations and requirements are being properly administered by the Department of Labor and MSHA. Adding this duplicative disclosure requirement is unneeded and represents another road block Washington puts in the way of opening new mines and restoring the coal industry.”

Why is less publicly available information about coal-mine safety a good thing for the country?

“This information and public data is already reported to the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA). This regulation undoes an unnecessary and duplicative Obama coal regulation.”

Has Rep. Mooney talked with industry and labor both about the legislation?

“This provision was included in the Financial CHOICE Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 8, 2017. I meet regularly with industry and coal miner representatives regarding ways to revive the coal industry.”