Congress must fix “the glaring safety issues revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) this week, as he introduced legislation to bring the nation’s mine health and safety laws up to date.
The bill (S. 805), the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2013, would 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. Says Rockefeller:
Since the terrible tragedy at Upper Big Branch more than three years ago, some crucial steps have been taken to improve mine safety, but we are long overdue to make an even bigger leap forward by passing comprehensive mine safety legislation.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), is the Senate companion to a House mine safety bill introduced last month by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.). Says Manchin:
Every miner should wake up in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night. That is why we need to continue to improve mine safety so that our miners’ lives are never in jeopardy. I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle on this important piece of legislation.
Among other things, the bill would:
- Strengthen whistle-blower protections for miners who speak out about unsafe conditions;
- Increase maximum criminal penalties for those who knowingly violate mine safety standards;
- Give the Mine Safety and Health Administration expanded authority to subpoena documents and testimony;
- Prohibit mine operators from keeping two sets of books;
- Limit miners’ exposure to black lung disease; and
- Improve federal and state coordination to combat safety violation.