WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 23, 2015
Today’s hearing is timely for two important reasons. First, in just a few days, our nation will observe Workers Memorial Day, a time to remember the men and women who have been injured or killed at work. It is also a time to reaffirm our commitment to tough, responsible policies that will help protect the health and safety of America’s workers.
And secondly, just a few weeks ago, the people of Montcoal, West Virginia, and neighbors in surrounding communities observed the five-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mining disaster. There is no doubt that the families of the 29 miners who died live each and every day with the painful memory of this tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers are with these families and every family that has lost a loved one while on the job.
Upper Big Branch is a terrible reminder that bad actors will look for ways to cut corners and jeopardize the well-being of their workers, despite a moral and legal obligation to make safety the number one priority. I am pleased that those who had a hand in the Upper Big Branch tragedy are being held responsible. It is taking some time, but justice is being served.
An independent report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health underscored why bad actors must be held accountable. The report said: “If [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of – and possibly could have prevented – the UBB explosion.”
That is why time and again this committee has urged MSHA to do better and use every tool it has to keep miners safe. Under your leadership, Assistant Secretary Main, the agency has implemented a number of changes to its regulatory and enforcement practices. The purpose of today’s hearing is to examine these efforts and determine whether they serve the best interests of America’s miners.
We have a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time, including controversial changes to the “pattern of violations” regulations, revised standards governing exposure to respirable coal dust, changes to the agency’s citations and penalty policies, and new rules on the use of proximity detectors on continuous mining machines.
Clearly, you have been busy, Assistant Secretary Main. As you know, we haven’t agreed on every issue, and when we haven’t, we’ve expressed our concerns and encouraged the agency to move in a different direction. However, when the agency does take responsible steps to improve health and safety enforcement, you have and will continue to have our full support.
Both your agency and this committee share the same goal: We want to ensure strong enforcement policies are in place so that every miner returns home to his or her loved ones at the end of their shift. I look forward to a frank and robust discussion today and continuing our work together to help reach that shared goal.
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