Mine Safety: Reducing transparency is a misguided idea

Members of the House Financial Services Committee have advanced a bill sponsored by Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., that would repeal a requirement for publicly traded mining companies to make regular disclosures to investors about safety violations and worker deaths. The bill should receive intense scrutiny, as it repeals a section of law that was implemented after the 2010 deaths of 29 miners at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine and amid questions about whether Massey Energy investors were misled about its safety practices.

Mooney called the legislation “one part of our ongoing efforts to revitalize the coal industry and bring jobs back to West Virginia.” But part of his argument in favor of the bill is that it “is a small, but significant way to get rid of duplicative paperwork and allow people to be employed in these mines and feed their families.”

What nonsense.

Mooney claims the requirement is a burden to mining companies because the information meant to be made available to investors is already available through the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. That would be because MSHA is the agency that conducts the investigations and issues citations and orders. Their records are not compiled in a way that matches the information investors might need and is currently required by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mooney’s own estimate of the cost to the entire mining industry for this allegedly duplicative paperwork is … about $1 million each year.

Somehow a mining industry lobbyist convinced Mooney the cost of each company’s quarterly report authors reworking the information already filed with MSHA into a format that fits the needs of investors, in addition to ALL the other data they must make available to investors, actually reaches $1 million.

But Mooney is misguided in repeating it, in claiming that $1 million divided among every publicly traded company in the mining industry would have the slightest impact on coal miners’ ability to feed their families, and in forgetting that a revitalized coal industry must not be build by putting the lives of coal miners in danger. In this case, repealing the requirements would make it harder for investors to know whether they are placing their money in the hands of companies with poor worker-safety records.

Members of Congress should put aside party lines and do what will keep miners safe while they go back to work in a revitalized coal industry.