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UMWA's Roberts says MSHA, coal operators not fulfilling mine safety responsibilities

February 28, 2007

In testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee today, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said that the efforts of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) over the past year "would do little to change matters today if a mine were to experience an explosion like the one at Sago or a mine fire like the one at Alma."
Pointing to a lack of concentrated effort in addressing problems ranging from mine rescue teams to underground communications and a lack of required additional oxygen units available in most mines, Roberts said, "underground miners would likely fare no better than those who perished over one year ago."
Roberts noted that for years, MSHA has subverted the will of Congress by promulgating regulations, policies and petitions for modification that allow coal operators to take steps that are in direct contradiction to the 1969 Coal Act and the 1977 Mine Act. This includes allowing the use of belt air to ventilate a mine's working places and approving the construction of substandard seals that are not capable of withstanding the tremendous pressures created by an explosion underground.
"Some coal operators will take every opportunity to put production first and safety last," Roberts said. "Congress recognized this when it created MSHA in the 1977 Mine Act as the government agency charged with protecting and improving miners' safety. Nowhere in that Act does it say MSHA needs to help the operators improve production. But many times over the past years, MSHA has been an ally in the operators' efforts to do just that.
"This trend has become much worse since 2001," Roberts said, citing decisions made by upper MSHA management to drop proposed regulations and instead focus on compliance assistance and collaboration with mine operators on regulatory initiatives.
"The law isn't written to protect mine operators or their profits," Roberts said. "The law is written to protect coal miners' health and safety, period. In some cases, MSHA's actions have had the opposite effect. It has ignored the mandate of Congress by adopting regulations and policies that place miners at greater risk."
Roberts testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

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