House Passes Mine Safety Bill Despite Veto Threats

Ignoring veto threats from the White House, House Democrats approved a sweeping mine safety bill to help prevent future mining disasters, improve emergency response and reduce long-term health risks such as black lung disease.

The measure, H.R. 2768, the Supplementary Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (S-MINER) Act, was introduced after an explosion at Crandall Canyon Mine entombed nine Utah miners in August 2007. Three rescuers died while attempting to retrieve the miners' bodies.

“It is critical that Congress take this action, because one thing is clear: We cannot leave mine safety and health to the Bush administration,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and co-sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., also a member of the committee, said the legislation would be a good supplement to the Mine Improvement and Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006, which, according to him, “failed to fully address the needs of our miners.”

The bill, designed to build on reforms adopted in 2006 and 2007, aims to add new safeguards for “retreat mining,” strengthen standards to contain explosions and fires inside mines and strengthen MSHA's enforcement abilities. In addition, the bill would increase penalties against mine operators that violate the law and improve safety technology.

The vote, however, fell short of what Democrats needed to block a threatened veto from President George W. Bush. In a statement, a White House official said S-MINER “would place in jeopardy meaningful achievements and efforts currently under way” required by the 2006 MINER bill. The bill now awaits Senate approval.

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