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MINER Act would reform mine safety regulations

In response to the Sago and Alma mine tragedies, legislation was introduced Friday to better ensure the safety of West Virginia's miners by drastically reform mine safety regulations. The legislation was cosponsored by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV).

The legislation, the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act), is the House companion bill to legislation introduced by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP Committee). Chairman Enzi's bill, cosponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), was unanimously passed by the Senate HELP Committee earlier last week.

Key provisions of the MINER Act will:
  • Require each covered mine to develop and continuously update a written emergency response plan;
  • Promote use of equipment and technology that is currently commercially available;
  • Require each mine's emergency response plan to be continuously reviewed, updated and re-certified by MSHA every six months;
  • Direct the Secretary of Labor to require, within three years, wireless two-way communications and an electronic tracking system permitting those on the surface to locate persons trapped underground;
  • Require each mine to make available two experienced rescue teams capable of a one-hour response time;
  • Require mine operators to make notification of all incidents/accidents which pose a reasonable risk of death within 15 minutes, and sets a civil penalty of $5,000 to $60,000 for mine operators who fail to do so;
  • Establish a competitive grant program for new mine safety technology to be administered by NIOSH;
  • Establish an interagency working group to provide a formal means of sharing nonclassified technology that would have applicability to mine safety;
  • Raise the criminal penalty cap to $250,000 for first offenses and $500,000 for second offenses, and raise the maximum civil penalty for flagrant violations to $220,000;
  • Give MSHA the power to request an injunction (shutting down a mine) in cases where the mine has refused to pay a final order MSHA penalty;
  • Create a scholarship program available to miners and those who wish to become miners and MSHA enforcement staff to head off an anticipated shortage in trained and experienced miners and MSHA enforcement staff; and,
  • Establish the Sago Mine Safety Grants program to provide training grants to better identify, avoid and prevent unsafe working conditions in and around the mines. These grants will be made on an annual, competitive basis to provide education and training for employers and miners, with a special emphasis on smaller mines.

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