Stickler Praises Bush Budget for MSHA

MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler on Feb. 5 announced that President George W. Bush’s proposed fiscal year 2008 budget for MSHA would increase the agency’s budget by more than 13 percent above current funding levels.

Stickler said he is comfortable with the proposed budget, explaining that it would provide the agency with 2,306 full-time employees and that it also would continue to pay for 170 new coal mine inspectors hired by the agency during FY 2007.

“This budget proposal demonstrates a strong commitment to mine safety and would provide MSHA with vital resources it needs to help protect miners’ safety and health,” Stickler said.

Under the FY 2008 budget proposal, 60 percent of the budget, or $215 million, would go toward the agency’s efforts to enforce mine safety laws, and 11 percent, or $34.3 million, would be focused on training efforts.

An additional 9 percent, or $28.2 million, would be focused on MSHA’s goal to help find technological solutions to improve mine safety. The remaining $35.4 million would cover the agency’s administrative costs.

MSHA’s proposed budget of $314.5 million for FY 2008 is a $35.8 million increase over the agency’s current funding level, which comes from a continuing budget resolution passed by Congress. According to the agency, that increase includes $22.6 million to boost MSHA’s employment ranks with an additional 244 employees. MSHA currently has approximately 2,060 employees under the continuing budget resolution.

Stickler: MSHA on Target to Implement MINER Act

At the Feb. 5 media briefing, Stickler also provided an update on the agency’s efforts to implement the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER) Act. Stickler explained that MSHA was on target for hiring 170 additional coal mine enforcement personnel by September and that the agency also has completed rulemaking to provide additional training, lifelines and self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs) for miners.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao expressing his concerns with the department's progress in implementing the MINER Act, signed into law last June after a spate of coal mining fatalities earlier in the year.

Miller, who is the new chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor – formerly the House Committee on Education and the Workforce – wrote that all underground coal miners by now should have received training in using SCSRs during simulated mine evacuations as well as having the SCSRs available to them in case of a mine emergency.

Miller also said that the Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over worker safety issues, will ramp up oversight of MSHA this year to examine whether additional policies, regulations and legislation are needed.

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., also said he is concerned that “crucial improvements in mine safety remain slow in coming, despite bipartisan federal legislation approved last year designed to spur critical steps to protect the lives of America's coal miners.”

“We must do all that we can to ensure that the deadlines set by the MINER Act are met,” Byrd said.

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