Mine safety administrator defends implementation of mine law
WASHINGTON – More than a year after the Sago mine explosion that killed 12 miners, protections for miners who get trapped underground have not yet been implemented, the United Mine Workers president said Wednesday.
UMW President Cecil Roberts testified during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing in which senators questioned Richard Stickler, head of the nation’s mine safety agency, about the speed at which mining reforms enacted last year have been put into place.
Forty-seven miners died last year in the United States , the highest toll since 1995. Following the deaths at Sago in West Virginia early 2006, along with a string of other deaths, Congress passed the first major overhaul of mine safety laws in three decades.
The new law requires miners to have two hours’ worth of oxygen on hand while they work, rather than one. Mine operators also must store additional oxygen supplies underground and must put new communications equipment and devices to track lost miners in mines within three years.
Stickler, who has lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration for four months, acknowledged that not all aspects of the law had been met, but he said the agency is working to comply under the timelines set in the law.
“Every single person at MSHA remains focused on our core mission, to improve the safety and health of America’s miners and to work toward the day when every miner goes home safe and healthy to family and friends,” Stickler said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he wasn’t satisfied with Stickler’s answers. He noted that a report released Tuesday by the House Committee on Education and Labor said that while Stickler’s agency is making progress, “it is moving too slowly.”
“Any one of these many factors could cause another mine disaster with many deaths,” Specter said.
Bruce Watzman, vice president of the National Mining Association, said the industry is moving forward. He said a survey representing about 65 percent of underground coal production found that about $159 million has been spent so far on upgrades in communications and safety equipment to comply with the law.
Roberts said there has been no improvement in the quality of mine rescue teams. He spelled out other potential problems, such as the fact that nonflammable belts are not required. He also expressed displeasure that there’s been a monthslong backlog in the production of self-sustaining rescue devices.
The UMW leader said miners aren’t safer today than they were a year ago.
“The truth of the matter is we’d have the same types of problems if this occurred tomorrow morning,” Roberts said.
On the Net: Mine Safety and Health Administration: http://www.msha.gov/ National Mining Association: http://www.nma.org/
United Mine Workers: http://www.umwa.org/