WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 9, 2014
It has been four years since the tragedy at Upper Big Branch; four years since 29 miners lost their lives in a deadly disaster; four years since the families of Montcoal, West Virginia were forced to live without their loved ones; and for four years Democrats in Washington have sought to politicize their loss.
I will remind my colleagues what the independent report from NIOSH said about Upper Big Branch: “If [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of – and possibly could have prevented – the UBB explosion.”
Upper Big Branch taught us no matter how tough the rules may be, if the proper authorities refuse to enforce those rules then miners will be left in jeopardy. Would it save lives if Congress passed a new law that MSHA didn’t enforce? Would it comfort the families of Upper Big Branch if we didn’t hold MSHA accountable for its enforcement failures? Of course not.
In the past, after tragedy strikes, politicians promise tougher rules, laws are passed, lawmakers pat themselves on the backs, and yet a broken enforcement regime remains. We believe miners and their families deserve better.
Through our oversight, we helped expose the agency’s failure to provide mine operators technical support recommendations drafted by MSHA personnel. We believe safety reports should never fall through the cracks of a federal bureaucracy. Thanks to our efforts, these safety recommendations are now being placed directly in the hands of mine operators.
The committee’s oversight also helped reveal weaknesses in the agency’s internal accountability program. Numerous independent investigations identified serious deficiencies in the agency’s enforcement practices, yet they routinely fell on deaf ears at MSHA. At our request, the Inspector General outlined a number of proposed changes to the agency’s internal policies and we will ensure Joe Main adheres to every one of them.
We’ve also raised concerns that MSHA personnel were providing advance notice of safety inspections, which would compromise the integrity of an inspection before it starts. The committee has even taken action to strengthen protections for MSHA personnel, a workforce that has some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses. We recognize that the men and women who inspect the nation’s mines deserve strong safety protections just like everyone else.
While there is more work to be done, these efforts are making a difference. But throughout all this time, what have our Democratic colleagues done? Nothing. When it became clear that flawed enforcement practices failed to prevent the Upper Big Branch disaster, Democrats did nothing. I am not aware of a single letter written to MSHA by the minority over the last four years that identifies a weakness in enforcement and demands corrective action. Instead all we hear are calls to repeat the past, a past that will lead to the next tragedy if we don’t demand better from MSHA.
This amendment reflects the same flawed belief that simply passing more legislation will protect miners. We believe a better approach is to build on the progress we’ve made through responsible, aggressive oversight, and that is precisely what this committee will continue to do.
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