White House Says it Will Expedite Hiring of Mine Inspectors

Days after Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., fired off a letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Robert Portman questioning the delay in hiring coal mine safety inspectors, the White House has agreed to accelerate the hiring of 200 new federal mine inspectors.

In July, the Bush administration released a plan to hire 12 inspectors this year. Unsatisfied, Byrd pressed the White House to speed up the inspectors' hiring, which resulted in the administration agreeing to hire at least 40 inspectors by Dec. 31, with another 125 to be hired and trained in 2007.

"The safety of our miners must be the highest priority for MSHA. That is why I put money into law for hiring and training mine safety inspectors," Byrd said. "I will not stop working for the safety of our West Virginia coal miners and our coalfield communities."

According to a statement released by Byrd, the White House has cut the jobs of more than 200 coal mine safety inspectors. Byrd added $25.6 million for 217 new mine safety inspectors to an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that was signed into law June 15.

The funds were released the day after Byrd sent letters to Portman and Chao asking why the funds were being withheld and why a detailed hiring plan had not been submitted to Congress.

"This commitment is good news for our coalfield communities," Byrd said. "We need to hire these inspectors, train them and put them to work. Their front-line efforts can help to prevent accidents and save lives."

On Aug. 2, Byrd met in his U.S. Capitol office with David Dye, the top official at MSHA, to cement the hiring agreement.

"We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to put an end to the safety crisis in our nation's mines," Byrd said.

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