Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mine Safety Bills Introduced In Congress

More than five months after the Sago mine disaster, there are legislative rumblings in Congress -- on both sides.

Joined by family members of miners killed in the explosion at the Sago Mine, Democratic members of the US House of Representatives today introduced the "Protecting America's Miners Act" to improve safety in the nation's coal mines. They also noted that House Republicans have failed to act on mine safety, even though 26 coal miners have died so far this year, compared with 22 in all of 2005.

As Congressman George Miller pointed out:
After Janet Jackson's so-called "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl in 2004, it took the House just 40 days to approve anti-indecency legislation.

I bring that example up to make one simple point: the House can act quickly when it wants to, and in this case, it should.

We think our legislation is very good legislation. But we aren't saying the House must pass this exact legislation.

All we are asking is that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle come together immediately – not next week, not next month, but immediately – to pass legislation to make the nation's mines safer. I promise that we will not give up – we will keep fighting – until that happens. We owe it to the 26 coal miners who have died so far this year; we owe it to their families; and we owe it to the thousands of men and women who work in the nation's mines.
Yesterday, Charlie Norwood , (R-Ga), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Worker Protections, announced that he would introduce mine safety legislation before Memorial Day.

Meanwhile, across the way, Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi, (R-WY) announced bipartisan mine safety legislation. Enzi is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), and Kennedy is Ranking Member.

The House bill calls for increasing penalties with new fines of up to $1 million for operators who engage in a "pattern of violations" that could lead to injury or death. It would also increase the maximum fine increasing from $60,000 to $500,000. The bill would also require better communications and tracking equipment, increased and reliable oxygen supplies, and underground refuge stations where miners can go while they await rescue. MSHA would be required to issue new rules to address the flammability of conveyor belts, the effectiveness of coal mine seals, and respirable coal dust, the cause of black lung disease.

A summary of the House bill can be found here and the full text can be found here.

The Senate Bill would require more emergency oxygen supplies and require wireless two-way communications and an electronic tracking system permitting those on the surface to locate persons trapped underground within three years. Seals for abandoned sections of mines would have to be strengthened, rescue teams would be required tobe only one hour away, rather than two hours away as is currently required. The Senate bill would also increase the maximum MSHA penalty against mine owners from $60,000 to $220,000.

Senator Kennedy's press release can be found here.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA).

Cosponsors of the House legislation are Miller, Rahall, Chandler, and Major Owens (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections; Alan Mollohan (D-WV); Rush Holt (D-NJ); Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Artur Davis (D-AL); and Jerry Costello (D-IL).