Rockefeller reintroduces mine legislation

PARKERSBURG – A mine safety bill fixing the safety issues found after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster has been reintroduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act was first introduced in 2010, and again in 2011 and 2012. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., cosponsored the legislation.

The explosion at the mine occurred April 5, 2010, and killed 29 miners in Montcoal, W.Va.

“Since the terrible tragedy at Upper Big Branch more than three years ago, some crucial steps have been taken to improve mine safety, but we are long overdue to make an even bigger leap forward by passing comprehensive mine safety legislation,” Rockefeller said.

“We owe it to families of the victims at Upper Big Branch, and to the miners of today and tomorrow, to pass mine safety legislation that moves us more strongly ahead. Coal miners’ loved ones give thanks for answered prayers every time they walk through the front door. We should be constantly vigilant for that safe return home. We cannot wait for another tragedy before we act. The time is now.”

A strong mining industry begins with a strong commitment to our miners, Manchin said.

“For many West Virginia families, mining is a way of life and has been an important part of our state’s livelihood for decades. Every miner should wake up in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night,” he said.

“That is why we need to continue to improve mine safety so that our miners’ lives are never in jeopardy. I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle on this important piece of legislation.”

In the three years since the Upper Big Branch tragedy, both Congress and the administration have enacted some targeted laws and regulations to improve the health and safety of coal miners, Rockefeller said.

However, comprehensive legislation still is needed to achieve important safety improvements, including those recommended by West Virginia miners’ families and investigations into the Upper Big Branch disaster, he said.

Since the Upper Big Branch disaster, Congress has held nine hearings on mine safety, and five federal, state, and independent entities have conducted investigations into the cause of the tragedy and released recommendations to improve mine safety laws and enforcement, Rockefeller said.

The recommendations were to hold mining companies accountable for their safety records, increase enforcement against repeat offenders, reduce the appeals backlog, impose new federal rock dusting standards and inspections to target unsafe mines.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act takes into account the investigations and reports on the Upper Big Branch tragedy, and incorporates provisions which families of the victims have said they are looking for, Rockefeller said.

The bill would:

* Strengthen whistleblower protections for miners who speak out about unsafe conditions.

* Increase maximum criminal penalties for those who knowingly violate mine safety standards.

* Give the Mine Safety and Health Administration expanded authority to subpoena documents and testimony.

* Prohibit mine operators from keeping two sets of books.

* Limit miners’ exposure to Black Lung disease.

* Improve federal and state coordination to combat safety violations.