U. S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who serves as the senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has secured an additional $22 million to help protect the health and safety of miners in the coal fields. The funding will bolster the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which is charged with reviewing and resolving contested mine safety citations and penalties, and for the Office of the Solicitor of Labor, which litigates contested cases before the Commission. The funding was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee this afternoon.
Included in the funding package was $22 million to reduce the backlog of contested cases at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, including $18.2 million for the Solicitor of Labor and Mine Safety and Health Administration, and $3.8 million for Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (FMSHRC).
Earlier this year, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health testified that this backlog (of unresolved cases), has "severely reduced the deterrent value that penalties were meant to have."
"Last month, a horrific explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine took the lives of 29 West Virginia coal miners," said Byrd. "We are learning that this was a disaster that should never have happened. That mine had been cited for hundreds of safety violations -- citations that were appealed and ignored, and I dare say, were scoffed and laughed at by the guilty parties."
"We must reduce the backlog of contested safety violations. Simply put, penalties must be paid, violations must be corrected, and the violators must be punished"
"I would like to thank Senator Tom Harkin, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, who has funding jurisdiction over mine safety and health activities, as well as Chairman Inouye and Vice-Chairman Cochran, for their generous support of our Nation's coal miners and for acting quickly to provide funding for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and the Solicitor General to do their jobs effectively and appropriately. This will certainly help to reduce the backlog of contested safety violations," Byrd added.
"The entire nation mourned the recent loss of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia," said Chairman Harkin. "I'm grateful for Senator Byrd's leadership on this issue and proud to work with him in securing this critical funding. In addition, as Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, I am examining possible legislation that would make a number of policy changes in the area of mine safety. We must do everything we can to prevent future disasters."
This new funding will be available for twelve months. It continues an effort Senator Byrd began last year to address the backlog in contested cases before the Commission. The Commission budget increased by $1.7 million in Fiscal Year 2010 and the Solicitor budget has increased by $28 million in last two years. At Senator Byrd's request, the Committee has urged the Labor Department to use additional resources to litigate mine safety penalties.
The Fiscal Year 2011 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill will build on the supplemental funding to expedite the reduction in the backlog.