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Kline headed to W.Va. for mine safety hearing

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.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/21/2010 - 09:24 am.

    Rep. Kline is nothing if not predictable. It’s too bad the opinions he will express will bear no resemblance to facts or reality.

    Rep. Kline’s previous pronouncement have clearly revealed the shifting color of the filters on the glasses he wears. When he looks at Blankenship and the mining companies that filtering color will be the most amazing shade of rose.

    When he looks at the miners (even those who were killed) and any and all actions the government may have taken to try to regulate the dangerous policies and behaviors of this mining company, that shade will be a sickly shade of greenish purple, gradually moving to an angry shade of red.

    Using those well-established filters, Rep. Kline will come away from these hearings (no matter what the testimony reveals) convinced the Blankenship and the mining companies are paragons of virtue and completely blameless while the miners themselves, their unions (although none existed at the mine in question) and government regulators are completely at fault.

    I always wonder what color his filters render the sky…

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/24/2010 - 01:14 pm.

    Lauri Lebo describes in the May 15 issue of the Washington Spectator the anti-union successes since Reagan’s 1980s of mine owners like Blankenship.

    After Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers, mine owners aggressively went after unions, using such techniques as forcing miners to negotiate with 14 separate mines all owned by one company instead of once with that company. Union membership dropped from about 90 percent of miners in the 1960s and 1970s to around 25 percent today. “If workers unionize,” says Lebo, the company closes, a new subcontractor punches into the mine through a different hole, operations resume and the union has to start over again.”

    Safety inspectors who can remove workers from a mine when they see something unsafe are always present with unionized workers. “In non-union mines, workers do not have a right of safety withdrawal and can be fired for calling in safety inspectors.” Of 284 miners who have died in accidents since 2002, 30 were from union mines and 254 from non-union ones. The backlog of challenged cases has risen from 2,100 in 2006 to 16,000 this year, meaning unsafe conditions can continue for many months.

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