Congress OKs Mining Reform Bill

After a tug of war between House leaders over the provisions of a mining reform bill that delayed its passage for 2 weeks, Congress gave approval to the legislation, which now awaits President Bush's signature to become law.

An identical version of the legislation was approved by the Senate on MAy 24 and also is waiting approval by the president. A total of 33 coal mining deaths since the beginning of the year spurred Congress to take action on the issue.

Passage of the House measure, which was approved by an overwhelming vote of 381-37 on June 7, came as a result of an agreement struck by Reps. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Ca., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., chairman of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee; other members of the West Virginia and Kentucky delegations; and House Republican leaders.

"I am proud of the way our committee has deliberately and thoughtfully considered ways to enhance the safety of America's miners," McKeon said. "Because of our panel's thorough action, we had an opportunity to modernize mine safety law for the first time in a generation."

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act) requires mine operators to develop a written emergency response plan, increases civil and criminal penalties and establishes a safety training grant program, among other provisions.

Miller Still Not Satisfied with Bill

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who initially blocked consideration of the MINER Act in the House, said that the bill is an improvement over current mine safety laws, but he insisted that it could be much stronger.

"There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that miners can go home safe at the end of their shifts," Miller said. "This has got to be the beginning of Congress' legislative efforts, not the end. The Bush administration has got to work keep miners safe, and the Congress has got to hold the administration accountable to ensure that it does its job."

In the days leading up to the House's Memorial Day break which was Miller's self-imposed deadline for passing mine safety legislation Miller canvassed for amendments that would require no less than a 2-day supply of air for trapped miners, mandate the use of communication and tracking devices within the next 15 months and require the Mine Safety and Health Administration to regularly inspect miners' self-rescuers.

Miller is vowing to continue to push for adoption of the amendments "through both the regulatory and legislative process." (For more on Miller, read "House Members Fail to Agree on Mine Safety Bill Before Memorial Day Break.")

Miller was heavily criticized by Republican lawmakers for delaying passage of the MINER Act. Mining support groups such as the National Mining Association and United Mine Workers of America also called for quick passage of the act.

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