Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the senior Democrat on the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, issued the following statement today on the two-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners. Miller and Woolsey are coauthors of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1579). As chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Miller called the only congressional hearings into the Upper Big Branch tragedy that included the voices of the families and the miners of Upper Big Branch.
"Two years ago today, the nation was fixated on the news of a devastating coal mine explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Americans from across the country justly expressed outrage that something like this could be allowed to happen and prayed for the safe return of everyone underground. Unfortunately, we later learned that 29 miners perished in a violent explosion.
"There were many tears shed at the time and proclamations made from elected officials to honor the dead by taking all actions necessary to prevent a similar disaster from ever happening again. But, two years later, as the headlines and national attention have faded, we are in danger of losing the sense of urgency that is so often essential to moving legislation to keep miners safe.
"The imperative to close loopholes in our nation's mining laws remains with us and many of our colleagues.
"We know from the four investigation reports and MSHA's internal review, that the entire system failed these miners: Massey put production ahead of safety, exploited weaknesses in MSHA that were a product of irresponsible budget cuts enacted by previous Congresses, and gamed weak mine safety laws.
"From these reports we know that our mine safety laws must be reformed. There is no meaningful deterrent to advanced notice of inspections. Miners have weak job protections for speaking up on dangerous conditions. MSHA still lacks subpoena power for inspections and investigations and lacks sufficient authority to shut down mines with chronic safety records. And, we know that there are some mine operators who still make the conscious decision to put their workers' lives at risk in order to put more coal on the belt.
"While a small number of mine operators might take such a reprehensible approach to safety, they endanger a large number of miners. Since all the investigations have concluded that this was a preventable tragedy, we remain hopeful that Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate will finally come together to honor the promise we made to our nation's miners two years ago and make meaningful improvements to the law. Congressional action is long overdue."