Obama Promises Immediate Mine Safety Changes
After meeting today with MSHA chief Joe Main, Secretary Hilda Solis, and Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal mine safety and health, the president pledged "immediate" inspections of mines with "troubling safety records" and a review of how MSHA is operating.
Mine safety is now firmly on the radar of President Barack Obama. Following a meeting today in the Oval Office with Secretary of Hilda Labor Solis, MSHA Administrator Joe Main, and Kevin Stricklin, MSHA's administrator for coal mine safety and health, the president said his administration is taking steps immediately to increase inspections and review how MSHA is operating.
The White House Web site posted the text of Obama's remarks, including these comments: "On April 5th, the United States suffered the worst mine disaster in more than a generation. Twenty-nine lives were lost. Families have been devastated. Communities have been upended. And during this painful time, all of us are mourning with the people of Montcoal and Whitesville and Naoma and the Coal River Valley. The people of West Virginia are in our prayers. But we owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone. They ought to know that behind them there is a company that's doing what it takes to protect them, and a government that is looking out for their safety.
"I want to emphasize that this investigation is ongoing, and there's still a lot that we don't know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine -- a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue. So today I've directed Secretary Solis, Assistant Secretary Main, and Administrator Stricklin to work closely with state mining officials to press ahead with this investigation -- so we can help make sure a disaster like this never happens again. Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take. And I’ve asked Secretary Solis to work with the Justice Department to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.
"But this isn't just about a single mine. It's about all of our mines. The safety record at the Massey Upper Big Branch mine was troubling. And it's clear that while there are many responsible companies, far too many mines aren't doing enough to protect their workers' safety."
Obama listed these actions being taken:
- Inspectors will visit "mines across this country with troubling safety records . . . to ensure they aren't facing the same unsafe working conditions that led to this disaster."
- Working with Congress "to strengthen enforcement of existing laws and close loopholes that permit companies to shirk their responsibilities"
- Reviewing how MSHA operates