In a letter addressed to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) criticized the current draft regulations on mine safety proposed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration as too weak to protect the nation’s miners, and urged MSHA to strengthen these rules.

The senators’ message was delivered as an immediate response to a coal mine disaster in Eastern Pennsylvania, using the tragedy to criticize a recent proposal from the White House to restructure mine safety laws. “The tragic explosion in a Schuylkill County coal mine [Monday] underscores the need for strong penalties when companies break our safety laws,” said Kennedy, who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. “These proposed regulations do not do enough to crack down on repeat offenders, nor do they target many mines with the most dangerous working conditions. Our safety laws must provide a real deterrent to safety violators.”

The White House has stated previously that it is committed to strongly enforce the mine safety regulations. The Mine Safety & Health Administration proposed a rule in December to raise civil defense penalties for violations, noting that fines in 2005 would have been tripled if they were to occur today. However, the administration has come under increased scrutiny after this week’s unpopular recess appointment of mining industry veteran Richard E. Stickler to head MSHA.