Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), leaders in mine safety in the U.S. House of Representatives, issued the following statements today after the release of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's accident investigation in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners in April 2010. In conjunction with the MSHA report, a $209 million non-prosecution agreement was reached by the United States Attorney with Alpha Natural Resources, which acquired the Upper Big Branch mine and Massey Energy.
Miller and Woolsey are coauthors of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1579) and, as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Miller called the only congressional hearings into the tragedy that included the voices of the families and the miners of Upper Big Branch.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce:
"While I continue to study the details of MSHA's report and the U.S. Attorney's agreement, the magnitude of MSHA's record penalty assessment sends a signal to mine companies that recklessly operate beyond the margins of safety: you will pay a price for your systematic and intentional efforts to break the law.
"However, the fact remains that 29 miners were killed by the acts and omissions of a company and those who ran it. They created a corporate culture that devalued human life. They put profit over safety. It would be a disservice to the families and a miscarriage of justice if the individuals responsible for this tragedy are not held to criminal account.
"I would like to thank MSHA for their extremely detailed work to get to the bottom of this tragedy. Now responsibility moves to the Attorney General's office, to bring those responsible to justice, and to Congress, to close gaping loopholes that allow some mine operators to put their miners at needless risk."
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections:
"Today's agreement and the MSHA report on Upper Big Branch send a powerful message: that gross recklessness and disregard for basic worker safety will be punished.
"But it isn't enough. $209 million won't bring back the 29 miners who died because of the negligence of their employer. It won't fill the empty chairs around the table in West Virginia this holiday season. Let's make this tragedy a call to action. What we must do is pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act -- to protect whistleblowers, to stiffen fines and penalties, and to finally bring mine safety into the 21st century."