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A year after Upper Big Branch explosion, "little progress" in mine safety, says group (4/6)

April 6, 2011
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One year after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, a consumer advocacy organization is using the anniversary to sharply criticize Congress for failing to enact reforms.

“There has been too little progress toward making mines safer,” said Alex Chasick, Policy Counsel of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division.”

Despite the explosion at the West Virginia mine, which killed 29 workers and was the deadliest mine disaster in four decades, Chasick said Congress failed to enact much-needed mine and workplace safety measures.

“These bills would have addressed shortcomings in the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) enforcement authority and allowed it to respond more quickly to accidents, withdraw miners from unsafe mines, and prosecute and collect fines from mine operators with bad safety records,” said Chasick.

“Although the disaster showed the limitations that agencies like the MSHA face when they try to cite companies for safety violations - Massey contested 75 percent of its violations in 2009 - the response from industry and its allies in Congress is that less regulation of mine safety is the answer.”

Chasick charged Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, with allowing conditions at the mine to deteriorate and with lobbying against safety reforms in the wake of the disaster, but pointed out that four other companies that operate coal mines in the Appalachian area - Massey, Patriot Coal Corporation, Peabody Energy and CONSOL Energy - all received the lowest possible grade for employee safety in a 2010 study of mine safety.

Although historically, mine disasters have resulted in the passage of new worker protections, this time, “Congress doesn’t appear to have learned any lessons from the Upper Big Branch disaster,” said Chasick.

He called on Congress to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act, reintroduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). “We urge Congress to act on this critical legislation and protect miners and other workers, who shouldn’t have to risk their lives to earn a living,” Chasick said.

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