Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, pressed for the money to be included in the in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, which would provide emergency funding for the current fiscal year for high-priority needs, including military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and cleanup from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. The bill is expected to come before the Senate later this month.
"We need quick action to improve mine safety, and that requires quick cash," Byrd said.
The funding would provide $25.6 million to allow the Mine Safety and Health Administration to hire 217 mine safety inspectors to replace the inspectors lost since 2001. His amendment also calls for an additional $10 million for the mine safety research and development budget at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
In addition, the funding also would support grants to outside institutions that partner with the federal government to develop underground safety equipment, including mine rescue chambers and emergency breathing, tracking and communication devices.
A push for enhanced coal mine safety came on the heels of a series of accidents that left 16 miners dead in a 32-day span in West Virginia. Another 8 more have died in coal mines across the country.
The $35.6 million emergency funding for mine safety is separate from the broader mine safety bill introduced by the West Virginia congressional delegation in February. Byrd said he is continuing to press the Senate leadership to move forward with the West Virginia bill.
"The clock is running," he said. "Miners continue to enter the coal mines everyday without the emergency communication, tracking and breathing equipment that could have saved the lives of 16 coal miners in my state."