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Mine Communications Technology Innovation Act

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


MINE COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - October 29, 2007)

Mr. MATHESON. Madam Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 3877) to require the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish an initiative to promote the research, development, and demonstration of miner tracking and communications systems and to promote the establishment of standards regarding underground communications to protect miners in the United States, as amended.

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Mr. MATHESON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I'm very pleased that this action is taking place today on the floor of the House of Representatives. I represent the Second Congressional District of Utah, and that includes the Crandall Canyon Mine where this past August I think everyone in this country is aware of the coal mining accident that occurred where six men were trapped, and during the rescue attempt, three rescuers were killed in a cave-in.

There were a lot of emotions that we all felt and shared during that disaster; but beyond those emotions, I think something that must have crossed all of our minds as we all watched this tragedy unfold was a question, and that was, how is it as the rescuers tried to locate these six trapped men that we can't know exactly where they are, that there isn't some kind of signal or beacon or some way to communicate such that we can have a better sense of exactly where the six men were trapped?

I think that's a question that a lot of us have, and here in Congress, as a member of the House Science Committee, I asked those questions, and the committee collectively, majority and minority, has looked at that issue.

The answer really is that the technology doesn't exist today to communicate in this manner between the surface and folks who are trapped deep underground, and so the effort here and the purpose of this legislation, it's a very narrow piece of legislation, looks at encouraging development of technology that would allow this type of communication to occur in the future.

The thing about this bill that I'm really proud of is the fact that the committee worked so well together, and I really want to thank Chairman Gordon and Ranking Member Hall for their extraordinary effort and also the staff, both majority and the minority, for working together to move this bill in a rather quick manner and in a bipartisan manner. Suggestions were taken from folks on both sides of the aisle, and the bill that came out of the committee reflected those discussions and deliberations among everyone involved in the committee.

So I think this is an example where Congress is passing good legislation, a substantive piece of legislation. It's a piece of legislation that is so important for the 1,400 underground mines we have in this country and, quite frankly, the many thousands of underground mines that exist around the world today, where this type of technology, if it is developed, will allow better communication capability and allow an opportunity for perhaps more success in rescue operations.

Now, I want to be clear on a couple of things. The purpose of the legislation is really to accelerate next-generation technology. The legislation will direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish an initiative to promote research, development, and demonstration of miner tracking and communication systems and to promote the establishment of standards and other measurement services regarding underground mines. I think the legislation will foster much-needed research and development in this field of communications to better protect miners.

The time to address this issue is now, before any more accidents leave any additional miner families desperate for word about their loved ones.

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Mr. MATHESON. I thank my colleague. I also want to thank him for making one additional really good point in his remarks, and that is that this legislation is complementary with what we are trying to do at NIOSH and MSHA.

Madam Speaker, Congress these days doesn't have the best reputation of working together on certain things, but this is an example where this committee worked really well in terms of coming up with legislation, where bills were originally introduced, there were some other questions during the committee process. Folks on the minority side of the aisle offered suggestions for a manager's amendment. We approved this bill. It has good bipartisan support. It's the right thing to do.

I again want to thank Dr. Gingrey and everyone on the Science Committee staff for their help in making this legislation work.

I will just close by saying that I visited the Crandall Canyon mine families right after the disaster. They were going through so many emotions that it's difficult for us to even imagine, but to not know where their loved ones were was probably the greatest frustration of all. If this legislation can provide a path to help provide answers to those questions in the future, then, clearly, it's the right thing to do.

I ask for a favorable vote from everybody on this legislation.

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