WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 3, 2011
Good morning and welcome to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. During today’s hearing, we will take a close look at some recent regulatory and enforcement actions of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. I wish to thank Secretary Main for the time he has taken to be with us today.
Mine safety is a shared goal that continues to develop and improve. In 1969, the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act was enacted to provide a comprehensive legal framework to protect workers in aboveground and underground mines. In 1977, Congress passed the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act which created MSHA.
The Mine Act established several important safety requirements, including a mandate that inspections must occur twice a year for surface mines and four times a year for underground mines. Additionally, coal miners must perform their own safety inspections at the start of each shift, as well as weekly and monthly safety inspections.
Congress has taken steps in recent years to strengthen mine safety laws, most notably with the 2006 MINER Act. The strong, bipartisan efforts in 2006 required MSHA to conduct an overhaul of its penalty policies and also led to increased penalties for the worst offenders.
Despite the progress that has been made, more must be done to protect these workers. Last April’s tragedy at Upper Big Branch Mine forever changed the lives of the families and community of Montcoal, West Virginia. This horrific event will forever serve as a stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant in providing strong and effective safety protections for America’s miners.
Although nearly a year has passed, several investigations continue to search for the cause of our nation’s worst mining tragedy in four decades. We are all awaiting the findings of these investigations. It is vital we allow the results of the investigations to shed light on this crisis so we can pursue the right reforms in a responsible way.
I know many of us are frustrated by the delay and anxious to act. I recognize a sense of urgency to move forward with mine safety reform. Chairman Kline and I share that urgency. That is why we are here today.
Improving miner safety must consider the efforts already underway within MSHA. Since the explosion at Upper Big Branch, MSHA has developed a series of reforms geared toward enhancing mine safety through existing law. These initiatives include changes to the pattern of violations process, an emergency temporary standard on rock dusting, and new regulations on miner exposure to coal dust.
However, if there is one thing we know, it is the strongest laws on the books cannot protect miners if the agency charged with enforcing those laws fails to do so. An article in today’s “Charleston Gazette” reveals a 2010 report by your administration written just days before the Upper Big Branch tragedy.
The report, as described by the Charleston Gazette, details “serious enforcement lapses, including incomplete inspections and inadequate enforcement actions.” I am troubled by this report and hope you can provide greater details during today’s discussion.
We have learned in recent years that the cause of worker safety is best advanced when we work together. We have a responsibility to pursue commonsense rules that protect workers and hold bad actors accountable for violating the law. That is the work this subcommittee will pursue and I hope we can work with you in this effort.
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