Friday, January 20, 2006

Bush's MSHA: Talk Is Cheap

I shy away from using four-letter words on this blog -- unless it's well deserved. Two weeks ago I called White House press spokesman Scotty McClellan "full of shit" for saying that the Bush administration was a friend to mineworkers because they had "proposed a fourfold increase in fines and penalties for violations of the Mine Safety and Health Administration rules." In fact, I wrote, although Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao had testified about the Administrations alleged intention to raise fines, no such legislation had ever been submitted to Congress. MSHA has also highlighted they mysterious proposal on its Questions and Answers about Sago website (although the reference has since been removed).

Today, Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward elaborates on that story.
[MSHA spokesman Dirk]Fillpot said Thursday that the administration sent such legislation to the Senate on Wednesday and would send an identical bill to the House later this month.

Starting with the 2004 financial year, the Labor Department mentioned the fine increase in a short fact sheet that described its budget proposal.

Under the proposal, the maximum fine for major mine safety violations would increase from $60,000 to $220,000.

At the same time, though, the proposal was never outlined in the agency’s actual budget proposal, which is read by lawmakers and congressional staff.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao did include the fine proposal in her prepared budget testimony to congressional appropriations committees in 2004 and 2005.

But MSHA chiefs Dave Lauriski and David Dye did not mention increasing fines in their own congressional statements.
Ward reports that the Bush administration has only raised maximum civil penalties once -- from $55,000 to $60,000.
When it announced that change, MSHA noted that the actions complied with a “Congressional mandate that agencies make periodic inflation adjustments in their civil penalties.”

MSHA did not mention the fact that it adjusted fines for inflation only after receiving a November 2002 letter from the General Accounting Office pointing out that the action should have been taken by June 2002.
OK, so the facts state that this administration lies (surprise, surprise). The problem is that Scotty McClellan lies to the national press, which dutifully reports it, and the truth is available only to those few who either read Confined Space, or who find their way -- two weeks later -- to the Charleston Gazette.

As Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."