WASHINGTON, D.C. | December 8, 2010
Today the House will consider under suspension of the rules H.R. 6495, the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010. Mine safety is an important and complex issue that has historically been addressed on a bipartisan basis. Unfortunately, H.R. 6495 is a flawed bill that is being rushed through an equally flawed legislative process; it does not reflect the kind of enhanced protections and careful consideration miners deserve, and I urge you to join me in opposition to the bill.
On April 5, an explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch underground coal mine claimed the lives of 29 miners. Since this tragic incident occurred, significant state and federal resources have been invested to determine the cause of the explosion and whether federal law is adequate, being obeyed by mine operators, and properly enforced by federal authorities. Today, with numerous investigations ongoing, we simply do not have answers to these important questions.
I am concerned that legislating without all of the facts will undermine our efforts to adequately respond to the Upper Big Branch tragedy and effectively strengthen safety protections for underground miners.
Enhanced safety should be our primary goal. That is why I have been encouraged by recent steps the Mine Safety and Health Administration has taken to enhance miner safety through existing federal law. I hope this represents a renewed commitment by the agency to use every tool currently at its disposal to protect miners. Unfortunately, H.R. 6495 threatens to undo the progress that has recently been made. Congress should not add new layers of rules and requirements until we've learned whether existing law, aggressively enforced, can effectively protect miners.
There are additional concerns with the approach the Majority has chosen to pursue. Everyone agrees that bad actors should be held accountable for breaking the law and jeopardizing miner safety. However, our top priority should be to promote safety and prevent hazards before they threaten a worker’s well-being. Putting punishment before prevention, as the Majority proposes, is not in the best interest of worker safety.
In due time, we will learn what went wrong at Upper Big Branch that resulted in the worst mining disaster in 40 years. Until the investigations are complete and we know all the facts, Congress should allow MSHA to take necessary steps under current law to enhance miner safety and not set back worker safety with misguided legislation. For these reasons, I urge you to oppose H.R. 6495.
Senior Republican Member
Committee on Education and Labor