Rahall Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Mine Safety Laws - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Rahall Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Mine Safety Laws

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Washington, D.C. (NEWS RELEASE) - U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall, D-WV, today joined Rep. George Miller, D-CA, in introducing the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2013, legislation aimed at bolstering the national effort to protect the health and safety of miners. 

"Less than a year ago, we dedicated a memorial to the 29 lives that were lost in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, and as we approach the third anniversary of that terrible tragedy we rededicate ourselves preventing such a catastrophe from occurring again," said Rahall. "While no piece of legislation can remove all of the dangers inherent in coal mining, we have a responsibility to advance sensible improvements in our national mine health and safety program that we know can save lives."

The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2013 builds upon similar legislation introduced by Rahall and Miller in the last Congress to strengthen the Mine Act and close loopholes in existing mine safety laws.  New provisions in the legislation being introduced today would require mine operators to record and maintain records of rock dust purchases so that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) can verify steps taken by operators to prevent the build-up of explosive coal dust, a key factor at UBB.  Civil penalties for targeted violations that are known to have contributed to previous mining tragedies are increased, and protections are expanded for whistleblowers who report safety violations to MSHA. 

The bill also ensures strong and reliable enforcement of mine safety laws by directing MSHA to develop a staffing succession plan to ensure that MSHA retains sufficient numbers of trained personnel to help keep miners safe.  Additionally, the bill provides that immediate family members of mine disaster victims can designate a representative to closely monitor and participate in a subsequent accident investigation.

In calling for action on the bill, Rahall noted that five lives have already been lost in coal mining accidents in West Virginia in 2013 and that the families of the victims of UBB are still waiting for Federal improvements to mine safety laws.  

"Tragedy has already visited our coalfield communities far too many times this year," said Rahall.  "We must not wait for further loss of life from a preventable tragedy to act to bolster our mine safety laws that we know are inadequate.  This legislation is an important step in making good on an obligation we have to health and safety of our courageous miners and their families." 

Other provisions in the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Act of 2013 would:

  • Expand subpoena powers for MSHA, so that the agency, like the State of West Virginia could more thoroughly conduct investigations into mine accidents.
  • Strengthen penalties against those who would give advance notice of mine safety inspections.
  • Increase the amount of rock dusting to 80% of total incombustible content in all working areas.
  • Provides for establishment of a NIOSH-appointed independent investigation panel, with subpoena power, for any accident involving 3 or more deaths. Such an investigation would include recommendations for improvements of regulation, inspections, and enforcement systems.
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