In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections yesterday, Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Joseph A. Main said that mines could be both profitable and safe.

Testifying for the first time since the GOP took control of the House, Main said, “I think we can all agree that mining is critically important to our economy, and I believe most understand our collective responsibility to ensure that effective health and safety standards are in place and are followed to prevent injury, illnesses and death.

“I know that it is possible for a mine to be a safe place to work for miners and a profitable business for operators. Most of the industry shares this belief and make the commitment to safety because it is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do as well. Injuries, illnesses, and fatalities have for too long taken a toll on the mining industry and its workers.

Saying the subcommittee had a long history of standing up for our nation’s miners, Main urged Congress to provide the MSHA with additional enforcement tools the agency can use against serial violators.

“We need to change the culture of safety in some parts of the mining industry, so that they are as concerned about the safety of their miners when MSHA is not looking over their shoulders as when MSHA is there – because MSHA cannot be there all the time.”

Main did not ask that Congress pass any particular bill. Instead, he asked lawmakers to work together, “across the aisle,” on legislation that would grant MSHA new authority to seek injunctions and bring criminal charges against mine operators as well as offer whistleblowers additional protection.

Main also brought the subcommittee up to date on investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, explaining that evidence showed that the initial methane ignition – a not uncommon occurrence in coal mines – was not contained or extinguished quickly, enabling it to turn into a massive explosion that was fueled by an accumulation of coal dust.

He said it would be several months before MSHA issued a complete report on the tragedy.