Aug. 31, 2011

White House Order on Regulations Imperils Mine Workers

Bowing to Political Pressure, MSHA Backs Off Plan To Fast-Track Mine Safety Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) formal announcement in today’s Federal Register that it would pursue a much slower course for a key mine safety rule puts mine workers in harm’s way.

The rule would require companies to place safety devices on a hazardous mining machine to prevent workers from becoming crushed. Without these devices, hundreds of workers have been injured and dozens killed by mining machines.

Initially, MSHA had planned to put the rule in place temporarily while the agency developed a permanent rule. But in a press release published last week, MSHA director Joe Main said the agency would forgo the temporary rule in light of an Obama administration executive order aimed at “improving regulation and regulatory review.” 

"This is a flawed rationale,” said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “With MSHA’s decision to forgo issuing the temporary standard, this safety rule will take years to develop. During the delay, many more mine workers will be killed and injured by mining machines.”
Added Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, “Delaying a rule that is critical to the safety of mine workers does nothing to improve the regulatory process. If MSHA’s action reflects the spirit of the Obama administration’s executive order, then our government’s ability to protect the public from harm is in serious trouble.”

An explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in 2010, which killed 29 workers, highlighted serious inadequacies in U.S. mine safety laws. Although more than a year has passed since the disaster, Congress has failed to strengthen mine safety, and MSHA has only been able to create a single regulation.

Public Citizen calls on the Obama administration to allow MSHA to issue its emergency measure to prevent workers from being crushed, and on Congress to pass meaningful mine safety legislation.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.