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Congress Falls Down on Job, Disregards Worker Safety

Dec. 8, 2010  

Congress Falls Down on Job, Disregards Worker Safety

Statement of Alex Chasick, Policy Counsel, Public Citizen

Congressional lawmakers today left workers in the dust when they failed to pass critical mine safety legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 214-193 not to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act (H.R. 6495), which would have empowered the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to protect workers from unsafe workplaces, prosecute corporate bad actors and close dangerous mines.

This year saw several high-profile workplace tragedies, from the 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon to the Tesoro refinery explosion in Washington state. The most deadly disaster occurred in April; 29 mine workers were killed when the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia exploded. These deaths were preventable and illustrate the dire need for the increased worker protections that this legislation would have provided.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act would have addressed shortcomings in MSHA’s enforcement authority and allowed it to respond quickly to accidents, withdraw miners from unsafe mines, and prosecute and collect fines from operators of mines with bad safety records. Lawmakers failed to recognize that workers should not have to risk their lives needlessly to earn a living.

Previous versions of this legislation included reforms to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) along with the mine safety provisions. The OSHA language had been removed in the hope that the limited scope of the new bill would make it easier to pass. It’s outrageous that not even a pared-down version could get through the halls of power.

Although the bill faces a much bleaker fate under the Republican-led House, Public Citizen calls on Congress to re-introduce the legislation in its next session – and to include protections for all workers.

A recent New York Times report found that more than a fifth of the third-quarter contributions to Rep. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) fundraising committee, Boehner for Speaker, came from the mining industry. Public Citizen encourages him to consider the gravity of the issue and protect our country’s workers, not just pump up his campaign coffers.

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