U. S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., today applauded Senate approval of additional funding to help protect the health and safety of miners in the coal fields.
The funding, which Byrd secured as the senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill the Senate passed this evening. It includes $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. The Commission is charged with reviewing and resolving contested mine safety citations and penalties. The Office of the Solicitor of Labor litigates contested cases before the Commission.
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."
The funding will be used to hire additional judges, law clerks, attorneys and support staff. The Solicitor and Commission are required to submit a joint operating plan 30 days after enactment. The plan will outline how many staff they intend to hire, and how quickly.
"We learned from the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week that some operators are intent on gaming the system and that should not be tolerated," Byrd said. "These monies will help ensure that penalties are paid, and that violators are punished."
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.