Funds Offered to Trim FMSHRC Backlog

More than 17,000 contested mine enforcement cases await a decision by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, while new cases are arriving at an even faster pace.

H.R. 4899, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010, is now on President Obama's desk and may be signed shortly. U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, said the bill contains an additional $22 million so MSHA and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission can reduce the backlog of contested mine enforcement cases. The mining industry claims MSHA inspectors are overreaching and says cited companies aren't trying to delay; they have little choice but to contest, according to the industry. Miller doesn't agree.

"It is clear that the seemingly indiscriminate appeals of nearly every significant safety violation by some mine operators are undermining important enforcement tools and putting miners' lives at risk," he said Wednesday. "This additional funding approved [by the full House of Representatives] today will reverse a backlog that has been allowed to pile up since the Bush administration and is a step in the right direction in holding some of our most dangerous mine operators accountable."

FMSHRC on May 20 proposed Simplified Proceedings rules specifically to whittle its docket; the independent agency said in its proposal that the number of new cases filed has soared since 2006, from an average of 2,300 cases filed annually in 2000-2005 to about 9,200 per year in 2008 and 2009. FMSHRC now maintains a weekly tally of new cases, and it indicates the trend has continued. Through July 17, 2010 -- when 11 weeks remained in the federal government's fiscal year-- there were 8,191 new cases filed, more than in any of the past four years at the same point and triple the 2,694 filed at the same point in FY2006.

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