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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act, H.R. 6495.
As a scientist, I have paid some attention to mine safety technology and overall safety standards. I also feel strongly about the concerns of the mining industry because I was born and raised in West Virginia, where my father many years ago as a U.S. Senator, was known as one of the best friends a miner ever had.
Today, coal mining is rated among the most dangerous jobs in America. It does not have to be that way. In the wake of the Sago, Darby, Crandall Canyon, and the recent Big Branch mine tragedy, I was pleased to work with Chairman Miller on the Committee on Education and Labor to write legislation that will hold negligent mine operators accountable and help the Mine Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, avoid future tragedies.
The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act would help make underground mines with long histories of serious and repeat violations safer. This bill would increase the maximum penalties for those who tamper with or disable safety equipment and replace the flawed ``pattern or violations'' sanction system with a rehabilitation program that is supported by mine workers and mine owners. Importantly, this bill protects miner's rights to blow the whistle when they know unsafe conditions exist.
My good friend Cecil Roberts, the International President of the United Mine Workers of America, wrote to us in support of this bill and to remind us that 48 coal miners have died this year. Further, 600 mine workers have lost their lives in the last decade ``and thousands more have died from the crippling consequence of exposure to respirable coal dust--exposure resulting from chronic violation of existing standards.''
Today we are updating our nation's laws to protect mine workers, make mines safer, and strengthen penalties for mine owners who put their workers in needless danger. We are doing this in memory of the coal miners who have lost their lives, to keep faith with their families, and to protect the lives of miners who still go to work every day.
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