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Mining Disastes. . . How Soon Our Legislators Forget

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Lawmakers once again are facing a new legislative calendar and some tough bills, including ones concerning mining safety. Despite the mining disasters our country has seen over the past decade, passing safety legislation seems too difficult for our Congress. How many disasters or lost lives does it take for Congress to act? How many more families should suffer the kind of traumatic loss that West Virginia mining families did in April 2010?

Last April, George Miller (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House of Representatives, H.R. 1579, the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2011. It had 16 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, where apparently, it still sits… since May 20, 2011.

Is it just that Members of Congress don’t remember "the many dangers and regulatory failings laid bare in the Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 miners in April 2010"?

Or is it that the public’s attention has shifted to the Republican primaries and it’s all about getting elected, so why bring up the tough stuff now?  Are Big Coal and the Representatives who are backed by Big Coal against the need for tougher fines for operators that violate safety rules or block safety monitoring? Is Big Coal against a clear path for federal regulators to close the mines of serial offenders? Is Big Coal against investigators having subpoena power or whistle-blowers having protections against company intimidation? Of course Big Coal is against these measures, because its very substantial profits may be slightly impacted. It must cost less to pay the families of dead miners than it does to make mining safe.

Have our Representatives forgotten that in the West Virginia mining disaster, Massey Energy was cited as being "systematic, intentional and aggressive" in putting miners’ lives at risk in a "workplace culture that valued productivity over safety"? The answer must be "yes" – money from contributors clouds their vision.

We recommend lawmakers step up to the challenge and get mine safety measures passed so that miners, and their families, are protected. If Congress forgets to swiftly pass this much-needed legislation, perhaps voters should forget to vote for their present Representatives in the next election. How many disasters does it take for Congress to act? Because it is apparent the mining industry, generally, will not police itself or institute safer measures on its own, because doing such apparently is not financially rewarding. Hopefully, it does not take another mining disaster to get Congress to act.