Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mine safety bill prompts another partisan divide

UPDATE 7/20: While White House leaders rush to move the mine safety bill through the House of Representatives, Senate Democrats have no plans to even introduce similar legislation before the fall. "The reason is clear: Senate Democrats need at least some Republicans to pass their bill, but GOP leaders are opposed to moving mine safety reforms quickly," Mike Lillis of The Hill reports. "Instead, they want to wait for the results of an investigation into April’s deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia — results that won’t likely arrive this year." (Read more)

Mine Safety and Health Administration officials and House Democrats called Tuesday for swift passage of new mine-safety legislation, in response to the April disaster that killed 29 West Virginia miners, but Republican lawmakers and the coal industry criticized the agency for not using the power it already has. MSHA boss Joe Main "said the bill would help his agency crack down on renegade coal operators and 'make the world a better place for miners,'" Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, D-W.Va., said she is working on her own bill because she thinks the Democratic measure would increase mine operator appeals of enforcement actions.

James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal summarizes: "The Democrats' measure would streamline the system under which mines with persistently poor safety records are monitored and made to follow the law. Maximum civil and criminal penalties for safety violations would be further increased; mine operators who alerted workers to the presence of federal inspectors would be subject to felony charges and prison; payment of penalties in a timely manner would be required; MSHA would have the power to close mines and subpoena documents and testimony; and miners who report safety violations would be protected and retaliation against them would be a felony." (Read more)

Bruce Watzman, a vice president and lobbyist for the National Mining Association, said that "trying to force safety improvements through punitive measures fails to acknowledge the complexities of today's mining environment." The comments came at a House Committee on Education and Labor hearing. Witnesses from the administration, labor, industry and academia testified. The legislation would update standards for control of explosive coal dust in underground mines and would require independent investigations by a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health panel of all mining accidents involving three or more deaths.

"Supporters said the measure is aimed at beefing up the controversial 'pattern of violations' enforcement process, defending miners who speak out against unsafe practices, and generally giving MSHA more tools to protect mine workers," Ward writes. During the hearing Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., announced he would rename the legislation the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 to honor the late West Virginia Democratic senator.  "Republican lawmakers objected to language in the bill that broadens its impact beyond mining to other industries regulated by a sister agency, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration," Ward writes. (Read more)

No comments: