Mine Safety Bill Signed into Law

President Bush has signed into law a bill that Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao called "the most significant mine safety legislation in nearly 30 years."

Passed by overwhelming majorities in both theand House and Senate, the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act (S. 2803), requires miners to carry 2 hours' worth of emergency oxygen with them while they work up from the previous minimum of 1 hour mandates that mine operators store extra oxygen along escape routes underground.

The MINER Act also requires a mine rescue team to be located within 1 hour of every mine the previous requirement was 2 hours and calls for coal companies to put new communications and miner tracking systems in place within 3 years.

"The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act is the most significant mine safety legislation in nearly 30 years," Chao said. "It builds upon efforts by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to improve mine safety nationwide, and calls for the modernization of safety practices and development of enhanced communication technology. We need to do everything we can to continue to improve safety in our nation's mines so miners can return home safely to their families at the end of their shifts."

Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the president's signature "adds the final layer of support needed for these critical reforms to become the law of the land."

"In addition to the president's strong support, the MINER Act's reforms enjoy remarkable backing from both houses in Congress, from both parties, from labor and from industry," McKeon noted. "Because of our swift and thorough action, we've modernized mine safety laws for the first time in a generation."

McKeon struck an agreement several weeks ago with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Norwood, R-Ga; Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.; other members of the West Virginia and Kentucky delegations; and House Republican leaders to ensure swift House passage of the reform bill.

Miller Still Opposes MINER Act

One congressman who still is not content with the provisions of the new mine safety law is Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who surprised members of Congress by blocking passage of the bill shortly before Memorial Day Weekend. He said the new law is a step in the right direction, but added the Bush's administration has had a "dismal record" in enforcing already existing mine safety laws.

"For the law to work as intended, it must be vigorously enforced by the Bush administration," he said. "Yet, since taking office, the Bush administration has had a dismal record of enforcing the mine safety laws already on the books, focusing on so-called 'voluntary compliance assistance' instead of tough sanctions for mine operators that break the law and put lives at risk."

Miller said Bush's determination to appoint former coal executive Richard Stickler whose nomination was thwarted by Senate Democrats calls into question the Bush administration's true commitment to mine safety.

"The real test of the president's commitment to mine safety is not the law he signed today, but whether he will finally change course and fully enforce mine safety laws," Miller insisted.

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