In October 2007, as a result of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, the Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on mine safety. During that hearing, a young boy whose father had perished in the Crandall Canyon disaster came up to Congressman Phil Hare and asked if Representative Hare could attend one of his soccer games because his Daddy was in Heaven and could not go.
That’s a harsh life and death lesson for that young boy.
Soon there will be new hearings regarding Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine and this time the Ranking Republican will be Minnesota’s John Kline (R-02).
No one should have to remind anyone of the consequences of mining … be it Sago (12), Darby (5), Crandall Canyon (9) or Upper Big Branch (29), every death impacts families and communities.
When these tragedies occur, we look to our elected officials in the long term to investigate and take corrective action but in the short term, it’s that calm word of assurance that tells us they are listening that can provide some comfort.
George Miller (D-CA), the Ranking Democrat on the Education and Labor Committee, and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), the chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, issued statements … but Mr. Kline, the Ranking Republican, has not issued any press release on this event. His last press release included his vision for America’s future :
“Speaker Pelosi and President Obama need to shelve their job-killing agenda, including plans to impose a national energy tax and strip American workers of their right to a secret ballot.”
Mr. Kline has a different view than others on the Committee as demonstrated by his stance on HR 2768 S-MINER Act which was result of those hearings.
Mr. Kline voted against it.
The talking points that the Republicans have used on Miner Safety are familiar –
“The S-MINER Act imposes a $1 billion unfunded mandate on the mining industry, placing in jeopardy the jobs of the very miners we are trying to protect.”
Typical scare tactics … government intervention — even to protect workers — could result in loss of jobs.
However, that fear is not consistent with a BLS analysis :
“Overall, coal mining employment is expected to grow by 4 percent as rising demand for coal is coupled with limited productivity gains from more efficient and automated production operations.”
FYI : there were almost 1,400 coal mining operations in 26 States in 2007 and in 2008 there were approximately 80,600 people employed in coal mining.
Deaths may get the headlines, but this is a dangerous occupation. The coal mining industry has higher incidence rates for both fatalities and injuries and illnesses than the total private sector. Workers in the coal mining industry are much more likely to suffer an injury requiring days away from work, and these injuries require a median of 29 days away from work to recover, much higher than the 7 days needed in all private industry. In 2006, the coal mining industry reported 4,600 injuries and illnesses–a rate of 4.8 per 100 full-time workers. Bituminous coal underground mining has a rate of 7.1 per 100 full-time workers.
Yet, Mr. Kline voted against this legislation.
The coal industry knows how to work the system using an approach that Mr. Kline frequently uses – Obstruct through procedures and delay action.
By appealing violations to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (FMSHRC), the industry backlog has ballooned to over 16,000. Murray Energy, whose negligence caused the Crandall Canyon tragedy, is now contesting an absurd 91 percent of its fines. Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia had violations at rate 11 times the national average. Upper Big Branch Mine has a history of violations. In 2009, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited 515 violations and ordered the mine closed 29 times. Upper Big Branch Mine has had 124 violations in 2010 already.
Mine operators are delaying needed safety improvements and failing to pay legitimate penalties by tying these cases up in red tape. “From an economic standpoint, it makes more sense to contest the violations,” said Michael McCord, commission general counsel.
The enforcement of mine safety laws can literally mean the difference between life and death.
In the near term, demand for coal will increase as coal remains the primary fuel source for electricity generation. Future increased use of nuclear power or renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, could reduce demand for coal, but over the projection period neither is expected to increase rapidly enough to contribute significantly to U.S. energy supplies.
While voters should watch Mr. Kline’s actions on this issue … will he continue to use fear of job losses and give blind support to the coal industry ?
At the same time, it’s time for voters to start looking at Dan Powers, Mr. Kline’s challenger in the November election.
Dan Powers is extremely open-minded on alternative energy. He is not afraid to talk nuclear power….yet mindful of its problems … as well as advancing the use of switch grass as an alternative for ethanol production since it is much more environmentally sound and can solve the overuse of food sources. Plus being a small business roofing contractor, Dan Powers realizes that JOBS are critical for the Second District to prosper.
Conversely, Mr. Kline offers a return to the DoNothing Congress that were prevalent during the Bush years.