1:37 PM EST

George Miller, D-CA 7th

Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. This amendment, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, does four things. First, it will authorize $30 million for the Department of Labor to buy a new generation of personal dust monitors required by the builder and provide them to miners. These dust monitors greatly enhance the accuracy in measuring the concentration of coal dust in underground coal mines. Both miner and industry representatives have expressed support for this initiative. It will go a long

way in helping us reverse the rise in black lung and save untold amounts of costs in dealing with such debilitating disease.

Second, the amendment will increase the time permitted for the mining industry to install a new generation of fire-resistant conveyor belts, significantly cutting industry compliance costs with the underlying bill. This amendment takes into account the industry concerns about significant amounts of old-style conveyor belts already purchased and in reserve. Under this provision, miners can use up the reserved belts before purchasing new fire-resistant belts so long as after 5 years of use they

pass a proper annual inspection.

Third, the amendment would eliminate delays by some mine operators in providing supplies of breathable air in underground coal mines for miners who may become trapped as required under the MINER Act of 2006. We recently learned that some miner operators are putting refuge chambers on order, with a wait of several years in some cases, and MSHA has been treating these purchase orders as sufficient to comply with the MINER Act's breathable air requirement. In the meantime, miners are underground

without the breathable air that this Congress intended them to have. At least 11 of the 12 miners of the Sago explosion, for example, did not die because of the explosion. They died because, after many hours of awaiting rescue, they ran out of air. So this provision closes an apparent

loophole in the MINER Act and ensures that breathable air is readily available to miners underground today while operators await the delivery of refuge chambers. Such air supplies can be provided via air cylinders or through boreholes to the surface pursuant to MSHA instructions.

Finally, this amendment deals with the potential safety problems posed by substance abuse in a direct and responsible fashion. Many of us have seen the recent reports about the rise of substance abuse problems in mines and mining communities. There is no doubt that the injuries, overwork and stress that miners experience can leave some of them vulnerable to abusing substances like painkillers. Now, none of the recent tragedies have been linked in any way to drug use, but we should be proactive

in this area.

The amendment directs the Secretary of Labor to study the problem in consultation with all parties and to impose the program if she determines it to be feasible.

I urge my colleagues to pass the manager's amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

1:40 PM EST

Buck McKeon, R-CA 25th

Mr. McKEON. Mr. Chairman, the S-MINER Act was first introduced nearly 7 months ago. It was voted on in the Education Committee more than 2 months ago. Yet in all this time this bill has been under consideration, the critical issue of drug testing was not inserted until the second try on the manager's amendment, submitted after yesterday's deadline. Forgive me if I am skeptical that we would have been given the same opportunity to revise our amendment at the last minute if we had sought

to do so. Nevertheless, the amendment now before us replaces the previous version of the legislation, and it deserves our thorough review.

I want to thank Chairman Miller for recognizing some of the flaws in the S-MINER Act and attempting to address them. The amendment includes some modest improvements, including an extension in the timeline for installation of the new generation of fire-resistant conveyor belts. At the same time, I am troubled by the proposal to limit the ability of mine operators to comply with breathable air requirements. With the ongoing backlog of the SCSRs, the breathing device required in mines,

today we demand mine operators to, at a minimum, offer a purchase order to demonstrate their effort to comply with the requirement.

By preventing mine operators from producing proof of SCSR purchases as evidence of compliance, this amendment could push mines across the country out of compliance, despite their proven effort to comply with the requirement in the only way possible. What would the penalty be for the Nation's mines being deemed noncompliant? Would these mines be shut down, leaving miners without work? What possible rationale could there be for threatening mine workers' jobs as they struggle with today's economic

pressures just because there aren't companies that have the ability to produce these required instruments?

Similarly, but perhaps even more troubling, the amendment imposes the same backwards logic on the new requirement for possible refuge chambers. On the one hand, it mandates that mines have these refuge chambers in order to operate. On the other hand, it makes clear that mines which purchase the chambers but through no fault of their own must wait for them to be manufactured, will be unable to operate without this very specific and widely unavailable product.

The majority knows that portable refuge chambers will have a production backlog of years. They also know that [Page: H62]

in being so specific as to mandate portable refuge chambers with no alternative, this provision guarantees that mines will be shut down while waiting for the product to be manufactured. I don't know if that is the goal, to shut down mines, but that will be the net result.

On the issue of drug testing, while I question the last-minute addition of this proposal, I appreciate the belated acknowledgment that drug abuse in the mining community is a significant problem that demands action. Unfortunately, this amendment offers little in the way of action. Instead of immediately implementing a drug testing program, this amendment calls for a study. We don't need a study to tell us whether drug abuse is a problem in the mines. All you need to do is pick up the front page

of The Washington Post Sunday edition and read about it.

At this time I would like to submit this article, written by Nick Miroff, into the Record. You will see the pervasiveness of this problem.

1:46 PM EST

George Miller, D-CA 7th

Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Chairman, I would just say that, first of all, on the question, I'm sure we had both the same reaction when we read the story in The Washington Post that we had an opportunity in this legislation to address, the issue of substance abuse by those in the mining industry. You drafted your amendment and we drafted our amendment. Ours is, in fact, a study and then the implementation of the program.

The gentleman from the other side of the aisle and his colleagues are always saying they don't want a solution made in Washington. They want to consult other parties. We thought we should consult the companies. We thought we should consult the States that have experience in this, the public health agencies that have some experience in this, and have the Secretary develop the best program and then enact that program with drug testing. That's what we thought we should do, and I think it makes the

most sense. There are States that have extensive experience, and rather than just somehow creating a program sent from Washington, whether those programs have drug testing or not, didn't make any sense to us.

With the rest of the criticisms of the amendment, I think it's sort of like maybe the ``Abbey Road'' album, where you guys play it backwards and it says ``Paul is dead'' or something. You're reading the amendments upside down or something because that's not what the amendments do. These are good amendments. They address some concerns that the industry has raised with us. And the fact of the matter is miners are entitled to have breathable air, to have 96 hours of air underground today. When the

chambers come, they will come, but in the meantime they should not be unprotected given the history of the accidents that we have witnessed in this country and the problems that the miners have reaching those breathable supplies after the explosions.

So I would encourage all of my colleagues to support this amendment, the manager's amendment, by voting for it.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.