WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., criticized members of the House of Representatives, including West Virginia’s three representatives, on Friday after they voted for an amendment to cut positions and funding at the Mine Safety Health Administration.
The measure, put forward by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., would have cut 10 percent from MSHA’s budget and workforce. It was rejected 238-178.
Meadows, who is also chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said the purpose of the amendment was to make the agency more appropriately sized for its job.
“I can tell you, coming from a state that has mining in every one of the counties that I have the privilege of serving, what we need to understand is that it is not about safety of mine workers, because I am for the safety of mine workers,” Meadows said Thursday on the House floor. “We really need to look at being responsible with the hardworking American taxpayer dollars.”
Manchin snapped back in a release Friday, saying the rise in mining deaths this year did not qualify scaling back MSHA’s resources.
“As a born and bred West Virginian and as someone who mourned the loss of many coal miners — including my own family — because of accidents that could have been prevented, I will not stand idly by and let this funding be taken away by the very people who have promised time and time again to fight for these miners,” Manchin said.
According to MSHA, 12 miners have died so far in 2012; six of the deaths have happened in West Virginia.
West Virginia’s three delegates — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins — voted for the amendment. Manchin said he “simply can’t comprehend” why the three supported the measure.
“These West Virginia Members know coal miners, know their families, and have toured coal mines,” Manchin said. “I can’t for the life of me understand why they would be against protecting their own or cutting the budget at their expense.”
The West Virginia Democratic Party said in a press release the state Republican Party turned its back on coal miners, specifically mentioning Jenkins who is campaigning for the Republican nomination in the 2018 U.S. Senate race. Manchin is running to keep his seat.
“It’s a slap in the face to our coal miners at a time when there is a rise in serious mining related injuries,” chairwoman Belinda Biafore said. “Not only do we have our GOP representatives in Washington marching out of step with West Virginians, but we also have elected leaders that will dance to the tune of people like Don Blankenship. It’s a disgrace.”
Blankenship is the former CEO of Massey Energy who was released from prison earlier this year after serving less than a year in connection to the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. Twenty-nine miners died in the explosion. Blankenship has released television advertisements blaming MSHA for what happened.
United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts released a statement Thursday applauding the House’s rejection of the amendment.
“We stand ready to continue to work with Congress, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the coal industry to enhance safety. But cutting back on safety and health merely to encourage enhanced production puts miners at risk and should never be allowed,” he said. “We have lost too many miners to ever forget that the most important resource to come out of a mine is the miner, not the coal.”
Roberts had sent a letter to House members prior to the vote, calling the amendment “a step backward in safety.”