WASHINGTON — Rep. John Kline will head to Beckley, W.Va., on Monday to take testimony from family members of those killed in the recent Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, the deadliest U.S. mining disaster in more than 25 years.
The hearing is part of an ongoing investigation into mine safety by the House Education and Labor Committee, of which Kline is the ranking Republican member.
“A comprehensive investigation of mine safety must focus not only on compliance, but on enforcement as well,” Kline said in a statement. “We need to determine whether federal regulators are exercising the full scope of their authority to identify and correct safety hazards, especially when such violations appear to be escalating in frequency or severity.”
“Deposition authority is an extraordinary tool, but when exercised in a responsible manner it can supplement our efforts to promote the safety of mine workers. I look forward to working with Chairman [George] Miller [of California] to ensure our Committee’s investigation proceeds in a manner that respects the limited scope of this new authority and does not impede any ongoing investigations.”
“For more background on the congressional investigations, see our earlier report on them. If you missed it, here are the key points:
- Congress passed a mining safety package after the 2006 Sago mine disaster, in which 12 miners died. Reforms at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) included adding 26 percent more mine inspectors and cracking down on safety violations.
- Last year was a record low for fatal mining accidents, MSHA officials reported, with just 39 nationwide.
- Minnesota miners have avoided a fatal accident for the past two years.
- Federal auditors have expressed concerns that the MSHA hasn’t ensured that all new inspectors are thoroughly trained before going on a job site, and that veteran inspectors haven’t been adequately retrained.
- Also, the Washington Post reported that while safety citations have increased, appeals have too [PDF] — and there aren’t enough judges to handle them.