“It’s been two years, two months and two days today. They’ve got their reports — they can’t use that as an excuse anymore,” said Betty Harrah, the sister of 40-year-old Upper Big Branch victim Steven Harrah.
29 miners perished in the April 5, 2010, explosion at Massey Energy’s mine in Montcoal, West Virginia and the families of the victims went to Washington last week to meet with John Kline (R-MN-02), Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee and other Members of Congress.
The families asked for major reforms :
tougher criminal penalties for the managers responsible for miners’ deaths;
stiffer fines for mining operations that repeatedly flout safety rules;
and stronger protections for whistleblowers who step forward with safety concerns.
“I’m a coal miner. I’ve been a coal miner almost 34 years,” Clay Mullins, whose 53-year-old brother, Rex, died at Upper Big Branch, said Thursday at the Capitol. “We know right from wrong in coal mining. The employers know right from wrong. But they chose to do the wrong thing … and not provide these men with a safe workplace.
It all comes down to greed, putting production above human life.
That shouldn’t be tolerated in this country.”
After meeting with the Upper Big Branch families Wednesday, Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV-03) said :
“I was honored to meet with these family members who came to Capitol Hill on a selfless quest. They have waited for more than two years for the Congress to act so that other miners’ families would be spared a tragedy like the one at UBB, and I am in full support of their mission to get a bill passed by Congress. We have a bill in the House that I am cosponsoring that would address loopholes exploited by Massey at UBB, and go a long way toward saving lives of miners on the job today. I have committed to these families to keep working for these sensible reforms and to honor the memory of the 29 brave miners we lost in that senseless, preventable tragedy.”
Also meeting with families, the ranking Democrat on Chairman Kline’s committee, George Miller (D-CA-07) said he hoped that their visit would reignite interest in protecting the nation’s miners:
“I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House and the Senate to honor promises made to these families to prevent another tragedy like this from happening again. These families’ voices must not be ignored. While Congress can’t bring their loved-ones back, Congress can and should be working together to make penalties for putting miners in danger more than just the cost of doing the business. There should be broad agreement by now – we can and should act immediately to rein in rogue and dangerous operators.”
Chairman Kline did not comment on the meeting either in a press release on his Congressional website nor mention it in the weekly Education and Workforce Committee activities recap. A spokesman for the House Education and Workforce Committee, Brian Newell said :
“Since the 2010 tragedy, Republicans have repeatedly called on the Obama Mine Safety and Health Administration to use all the enforcement tools in the law to protect miners and to punish bad actors who jeopardize a miner’s safety.”
The media analysis of the likelihood of legislation action was :
Despite the devastating findings on the disaster, safety reform is by no means a sure thing. The National Mining Association opposes the legislation, and the GOP-controlled House has been loath to put new regulations on businesses, and mining companies have been lobbying hard to keep the lightest possible regulations on the industry.
Chairman Kline is opting for the Blame-Game inferring that the Obama Administration needs to do more … yet MSHA lacks the tools, that could be used to hold rogue mine operators like Massey accountable, are ineffective because of indiscriminate mine operator appeals of violations and weak laws.
The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 1579) was introduced on April 15, 2011 and for OVER A YEAR, Chairman Kline has failed to hold a hearing.
H.R. 1579 would:
Make Mines with Serious and Repeated Violations Safe – Criteria for ‘pattern of violations’ sanctions would be revamped to ensure that operators that chronically and repeatedly violate mine safety standards or have high accident rates improve safety dramatically.
Holding Irresponsible Mine Operators Accountable – Maximum criminal penalties would be increased and a sanction is established for those who knowingly tamper with or disable safety equipment that could kill miners. Providing advance of notice of inspections will be treated as a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Operators would be required to pay penalties in a timely manner.
Give MSHA Better Enforcement Tools – MSHA would be given the authority to subpoena documents and testimony. Allows MSHA to seek a court order to close a mine when there is a continuing threat to the health and safety of miners. MSHA could require more training of miners in unsafe mines. MSHA will require contractors, in addition to operators, to report accidents and injuries and hours of work at each mine, and those filing reports would be held responsible for the accuracy of reports.
Ensuring Miners’ Right to Blow Whistle on Unsafe Conditions – Protections for workers and their immediate family members who speak out about unsafe conditions would be strengthened and would guarantee that miners wouldn’t lose pay for safety-related closures. In addition, miners would receive protections allowing them to speak freely during investigations, and criminal sanctions could be brought against those who interfere with the livelihood of those who report safety violations to officials.
Updating Mine Safety Standards to Prevent Explosions – Increases rock dusting requirements to prevent coal dust explosions. Pre-shift reviews of hazards and violations in the mine must be communicated to incoming miners to ensure that they are not caught unaware. Protocols for continuous atmospheric monitoring for methane and carbon monoxide will be developed by NIOSH and adopted by MSHA through regulations.
Increase MSHA’s Accountability – Requires an independent investigation of serious accidents with three or more fatalities, which includes an assessment of whether there are gaps in MSHA’s oversight or regulation. It asks GAO to assess whether there are problems with timeliness of mine
Chairman Kline is a Master at the Blame-Game … but that is not what the workers and their families need.
Chairman Kline antics evokes a quote from a more responsible Congressman … Sam Rayburn :
Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.
IF Chairman Kline believes that no regulations requiring greater compliance by industry, he should say so.
IF Chairman Kline believes that the Obama MSHA is to blame, then he needs to hold hearings and enact legislation requiring improvement.
BUT, eerily being silent exhibits negligence of his Chairmanship responsibilities.
No doubt this November, a number of claims will be made regarding “job killing regulations”, the need for expansion of extraction our natural resources to eliminate our dependence on foreign producers (for example, increased fracking) and also transporting more oil from friendly neighbors (TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline), etc., but voters need to ask questions about Worker Safety and the agenda of the candidates.
John Kline has a track record of voting against Mine Safety regulations and ignoring the issue while his challenger Mike Obermueller has a record of working on behalf of workers.
As Mike Obermueller stated this week in filing his candicacy papers, “John Kline hasn’t changed Washington nearly as much as Washington has changed John Kline,” … well, we know that John Kline can kick down a barn, and the only thing that he has built is an appreciation from Big Business and their lobbying interests.