Yesterday’s proposal from the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is a significant step in the right direction to hold chronic violators accountable for repeatedly putting miners’ lives at risk. As we have seen with Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine tragedy, loopholes have allowed some of our nation’s most dangerous mines to escape tougher sanctions that would force them to comply with safety standards or be shut down. Yesterday’s proposal, similar to provisions in the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act, will go a long way to cutting through red tape that allowed dangerous mine operations to evade “pattern of violations” sanctions by clogging the system with appeals. These appeals have forced MSHA to wait an average of 518 days to secure final orders needed to trigger pattern of violation sanctions.
While the department is taking the commendable step of repairing a dysfunctional regulation that blocked any use of the pattern of violation sanction for 33 years, MSHA still needs additional tools to protect miners. It is not enough to fine dangerous mines for having a bad safety record. Further legislation is needed to incentivize mines to implement a culture of safety quickly, and provide both carrots and sticks to sustain that progress over time. That’s why it is so important that Congress immediately move on the legislation we worked on last year with the Senate, Obama administration, mining experts and some in the mining industry.
U.S. Representative George Miller represents California’s 7th District and is the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.