Democrats Seek to Bolster MINER Act

A year after the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER) Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush, Democratic lawmakers are pushing a new bill in an effort to further reform mine safety and health.

According to the bill sponsors – Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. – the goal of the legislation is to:

  • Improve mine emergency response plans.
  • Strengthen MSHA's ability to enforce health and safety regulations.
  • Strengthen rescue, recovery and accident investigation practices.
  • Update the 35-year-old standard that is not effectively preventing today’s miners from developing black lung disease.

The initiative builds upon the MINER Act, which was enacted after a spate of mining disasters took the lives of 47 miners in 2006, making it the deadliest year for coal miners in a decade.

“The MINER Act was an important first step towards fixing years of backsliding and complacency when it comes to the health and safety of miners,” said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “... Enactment of this legislation is essential if we are to ensure that our miners and their families no longer have to fear for their lives or those of their loved ones in producing the coal this nation needs.”

Bill Would Provide Whistleblower Protections

The legislation would establish an independent ombudsman to ensure proper attention to miner complaints of unsafe conditions and to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Coal miners and family members who lost loved ones in mining accidents testified before Congress in March that they faced blacklisting or retaliation if they spoke up about unsafe working conditions.

Other provisions in the bill would:

  • Require underground mines to move quickly to install proven technologies to help prevent emergencies and protect miners’ lives if accidents occur.
  • Prevent witness coercion and conflict of interests during accident investigations.
  • Allow supplemental investigations by the Chemical and Hazard Investigation Safety Board if requested by representatives of miners or families.
  • Enhance penalties not adjusted by the MINER Act.
  • Ban the practice of ventilating mines with intake air run over conveyor belts.
  • Update the 40-year-old exposure limits for hundreds of toxic substances and set improved requirements to protect miners from asbestos exposure.

“The MINER Act was a key step forward, but there is still much to be done to safeguard the health and safety of our nation’s miners,” said Kennedy, who was one of the key authors of the MINER Act. “We must build upon the advances we have already made and eliminate the many hazards these workers face every day. America’s miners and their families deserve no less.”

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