U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller says he wants to see Congress pass a comprehensive bill dealing with safety in coal mines in West Virginia and across the country this year.
“We got a little bill, but we couldn’t get a big bill passed,” Senator Rockefeller said on Wednesday’s MetroNews Talkline. “I want to get a big bill passed.”
He was at Concord University in Mercer County on Wednesday to talk about what should be included in that bill with people in the coal industry, labor, higher education and the private sector along with coal miners and their families.
April 5th will mark three years since 29 coal miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, a Massey Energy mine site, in Raleigh County.
The Senator introduced the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act, as a response to UBB, in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and plans to introduce a reworked mine safety bill soon on Capitol Hill.
“My bill last got nowhere because we couldn’t get any votes,” he said.
Senator Rockefeller says he expects the bill to do the following:
- Strengthen whistleblower protections for miners that report safety concerns.
- Increase MSHA oversight and accountability.
- Give MSHA improved enforcement tools and hold irresponsible operators accountable through an improved pattern of violations process that focuses on rehabilitating unsafe mines.
- Reduce safety risks for miners associated with coal dust and make sure that miners communicate with one another about poor conditions.
“It’s not that complicated, because it’s not the whole world that we’re putting rules and regulations on, it’s just a number of coal mines,” Senator Rockefeller said.
Even without legislation, officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration have taken steps since the UBB Disaster to add to safety standards.
A new “pattern of violation” designation, for example, allows MSHA to take more aggressive enforcement actions against problem coal mines where safety rules are routinely skirted.
Records indicate MSHA had cited the UBB Mine for 639 violations in the 15 months leading up to the explosion, yet had never been given the mine site ”pattern of violation” status.