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Reintroduction of mine safety legislation is a good start, but we need action now

Today, House Democrats reintroduced legislation today to bring the nation’s mine health and safety laws up to date, give mine safety officials the ability to effectively investigate and shut down habitually dangerous mines, and hold mine operators accountable for putting their workers in unnecessary danger. The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2013 is similar to legislation introduced in 2011.

This legislation is particularly important given the recent spate of miner deaths at the beginning of this year. In a period of just 25 days, six miners were killed on the job; four of the miners worked in West Virginia. In response, the Mine Safety and Health Administration released a fatal alert, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered a halt in production for an hour to talk about mine safety laws and procedures.

It is time for stronger protections to keep America’s miners safe on the job. Given the recent wave of miners’ deaths, that legislation cannot wait.

“It’s been almost three years since the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. After numerous investigations, there are clear areas where we can do something to improve the health of safety of our nation’s miners,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in a press release about the reintroduction of the legislation.  “In the aftermath of Upper Big Branch, Democrats and Republicans alike promised the families who lost loved ones that we would do all we could to prevent another tragedy. Yet, three years on, Congress hasn’t been able do anything to fix our laws so that rogue operators are deterred from operating outside the margins of safety. It piles tragedy upon tragedy if these families have to wait until the next deadly event for Congress to act.”

On April 5, 2010, a massive explosion ripped through Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, killing 29 miners. Investigators found a widespread failure to comply with basic safety standards meant to prevent coal dust explosions and methane ignitions. In addition, the mine remained open despite having a history of chronic violations, repeated withdrawal orders and numerous fines. Investigations have uncovered a conspiracy by Massey officials to obstruct the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration by providing unlawful advance notice of underground inspections and modifying the operating conditions to mislead inspectors.

The Upper Big Branch explosion was the worst mining disaster our country has seen in decades. If the deaths of 29 miners and the revelation of a corporate conspiracy can’t entice Congress to act, what will? Let’s not tempt fate, and pass meaningful legislation now to ensure that every miner makes it home safely at the end of a shift.

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