28 April 2010

Mine Safety on Capitol Hill

A U.S. Senate committee fielded testimony about mine safety rules and industry compliance in the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster, The Associated Press and others report.

The Obama administration's mine safety chief said his agency "will start going directly to federal court to shut down mines that make a habit of ignoring safety," the article said. Joe Main of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration "also called for a slew of other legal and regulatory reforms to beef up safety enforcement."

But a National Mining Association official said "there is no need for new regulations because MSHA already has the enforcement tools it needs," and instead "called for a new, cooperative emphasis on safety programs," AP reported.

And one day after a Massey Energy board member denounced such allegations as a "big lie," the article said that committee Chairman Tom Harkin described the April 5 disaster as a "tragic example" of what happens when companies "prioritize profits over safety and knowingly and repeatedly violate the law."

"The mine, owned by Massey Energy Co., was repeatedly cited for problems with its methane ventilation system and other issues in the months leading up to the accident," AP noted. "One category of serious violations was nearly 19 times higher than average."

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has posted video of the entire hearing, along with the prepared statements of 10 witnesses.

Update: Massey responded to some of MSHA's testimony and allegations.

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