Occupational Health & Safety

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is now chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Mine Safety Bill Defeated, Committee Chairman Confirmed

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the current ranking member, was selected Wednesday as Education and Labor Committee chairman. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis strongly criticized the bill's defeat.

The U.S. House of Representatives rejected H.R. 6495 late Wednesday, dealing a last-minute defeat to Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who loses the chairmanship of the Education and Labor Committee when the 112th Congress begins next month. The bill contained criminal penalties for underground mine operators who knowingly violate a mandatory health or safety standard -- a maximum fine of $250,000 and imprisonment for as much as one year, or both, upon conviction. And it said if they had previously been convicted of a violation and knew or should have known the subsequent violation "has the potential to expose a miner to risk of serious injury, serious illness, or death, the operator shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both."

Late Wednesday, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis issued a statement about the bill's 214-193 defeat: "I am deeply disappointed that the House of Representatives today failed to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010 under suspension of the rules. This common-sense legislation, championed by Chairman George Miller of the Education and Labor Committee, would be an important step forward in strengthening safety laws for our nation's miners. The measure would compel the worst of the worst in the mining industry to change how they treat their miners.

"Despite the outcome of today's vote in the House, it is important to note that a majority of the members showed they have run out of patience with those mine operators who refuse to take the safety and health of miners seriously. As this Congress winds down, the tremendous need for this legislation continues. Every day the lives of miners are needlessly being put at risk. That should be unacceptable to every single member of Congress. All workers deserve to come home safe at the end of a shift. I urge every legislator to join the president and me in committing to bringing miners the safety reforms they deserve."

The new chairman will be Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the current ranking member who was selected Wednesday as committee chairman. He seems sure to reverse the committee's direction under Miller. This statement attributed to Kline was posted on the committee's minority website Wednesday: "Job creation and American competitiveness are vital national priorities. As Chairman, I will ensure they are at the forefront of the Education and Labor Committee agenda. I am humbled by the decision of my colleagues to allow me to lead this panel, and I am eager to move forward with an agenda that fulfills our pledge to create a smaller, more accountable federal government. My goal for the federal programs and agencies that oversee our schools and workplaces is to provide certainty and simplicity. We must ensure federal red tape does not become the enemy of innovation, and that federal mandates do not become roadblocks on the path to reform."

Miller introduced H.R. 6459, titled the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010, on Dec. 3. It contained essentially the same reforms the committee passed in July in response to the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion of April 5, he said. Among the changes it contained were these:

  • MSHA would be authorized to subpoena documents and solicit testimony, and it could seek a court order to close a mine when it has determined there is a continuing threat to the health and safety of miners.
  • MSHA could require more training of miners in unsafe mines.
  • Rock dusting would be increased to prevent coal dust explosions.
  • Independent investigations of the most serious accidents would be made "so that MSHA is not investigating itself," according to the summary posted on the committee's website.

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