Rockefeller re-introduces mine safety legislation - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Rockefeller re-introduces mine safety legislation

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is trying again to pass a large package of mine safety measures in the wake of the Upper Big Branch explosion that occurred more than three years ago.

The explosion has been deemed largely preventable by numerous studies and reports of the explosion by members of labor, the government and independent review panel. The blast claimed the lives of 29 men in Raleigh County.

"Since the terrible tragedy at Upper Big Branch more than three years ago, some crucial steps have been taken to improve mine safety, but we are long overdue to make an even bigger leap forward by passing comprehensive mine safety legislation," Rockefeller said. "We owe it to families of the victims at Upper Big Branch, and to the miners of today and tomorrow, to pass mine safety legislation that moves us more strongly ahead. 

"Coal miners' loved ones give thanks for answered prayers every time they walk through the front door.  We should be constantly vigilant for that safe return home.  We cannot wait for another tragedy before we act.  The time is now."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. is co-sponsoring the bill. Rockefeller has attempted to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act three times since 2010.  

"A strong mining industry begins with a strong commitment to our miners," Manchin said.  "For many West Virginia families, mining is a way of life and has been an important part of our state's livelihood for decades.  Every miner should wake up in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night. 

"That is why we need to continue to improve mine safety so that our miners' lives are never in jeopardy.  I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle on this important piece of legislation."

While there have been some laws related to mine safety passed since Upper Big Branch, such as a requirement that companies disclose significant safety incidents, there has not been what most would call "comprehensive" reform. Rockefeller said that is needed and many of the items in the legislation were recommended by family members of the Upper Big Brach victims.  

According to Rockefeller's office, among other things, the bill would:

  • Strengthen whistleblower protections for miners who speak out about unsafe conditions; 
  • Increase maximum criminal penalties for those who knowingly violate mine safety standards;
  • Give MSHA expanded authority to subpoena documents and testimony; 
  • Prohibit mine operators from keeping two sets of books;
  • Limit miners' exposure to Black Lung disease; and
  • Improve federal and state coordination to combat safety violations.