Mr. McKEON. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of mine safety and in opposition to this bill, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
The men and women who work in and around our Nation's mines are often unrecognized for the integral role they play in powering our country. These individuals work hard, in difficult and often dangerous conditions, to unearth the raw materials that each of us relies upon in our day-to-day lives.
While mining is inherently dangerous, there are steps we can take to mitigate that risk. For that reason, mine safety has been an ongoing priority both legislatively and within the context of oversight.
Although our commitment to mine safety is constant, we also recognize that new mandates from Washington translate into major changes within the operation of our Nation's mines. For that reason, we do not and we must not take a piecemeal approach to mine reform. Rather, we should develop thoughtful, comprehensive consensus reforms, and then give those reforms a chance to work. I am pleased to say that we did just that less than 2 years ago. In 2006, Congress passed the MINER Act which required
MSHA to revise its penalties, increase penalties for major violations, undertake several studies regarding mining practices, and work to improve the technology for communications underground. The MINER Act received strong bipartisan, bicameral support. It was backed by both industry and labor, and its reforms were understood to be the most significant in a generation.
With the MINER Act, we called on the mining industry to overhaul itself, to develop and implement new technologies, and to comply with strong new protections that were to be developed by the experts. This type of transformation cannot take place overnight; but let there be no doubt, change is well under way.
Mr. Chairman, I fear that with this bill before us, we run a very real risk of derailing that progress and returning to square one on many critical mine safety issues. H.R. 2768 ignores the safety guidelines being developed through expert research and review, and replaces them with arbitrary new mandates established by Congress. This bill makes an end run around the regulatory process, shutting stakeholders out.
Simply put, the S-MINER Act abandons the mine safety momentum of the MINER Act and sends us back to the drawing board.
I appreciate Chairman Miller's concern about the dangers faced by our Nation's miners, and I share his desire to see strong reforms in place that will promote safety. That is why Republicans will offer a substitute amendment that would accomplish exactly that.
The Wilson/Kline amendment will balance successful implementation of the 2006 MINER Act with a number of mine safety enhancements. I look forward to supporting that amendment when it is offered, because it provides a real opportunity to promote mine safety without backing away from the progress that has been made.
In addition to the Republican substitute, we will consider a number of other amendments today, including one to be offered by Chairman Miller. I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out the rather transparent political expediency of one portion of that amendment.
Included in the Republican substitute is a proposal to implement mandatory drug testing within the mining industry. A similar proposal was offered by the late Charlie Norwood, our colleague from Georgia, who was a stalwart on this issue. The ravaging impact of drug abuse among miners came into sharp focus this past weekend, when the front page of the Washington Post carried a story of miners who struggle with addiction to pain killers. We believe that mandatory drug testing is the most effective
and, indeed, the only way to immediately address the prevalence of drug abuse that is putting miners' lives at risk.
Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, however, appear to have discovered the devastation of drug abuse among miners only late yesterday afternoon. At that time, several hours after the deadline for submitting amendments, the chairman was permitted to resubmit a revised version of his manager's package that included a hastily drafted study of drug abuse among miners. While this amendment may offer a fig leaf now that the issue of drug abuse can no longer be ignored, it should not be mistaken
for a legitimate attempt to deter drug abuse in the way that testing would.
Mr. Chairman, the S-MINER Act is fundamentally flawed. It brings the progress of the 2006 MINER Act to a jarring halt, creating instead a package of new prescriptive mandates from Washington. The bill imposes $1 billion in unfunded mandates on the mining community, placing the jobs of miners in jeopardy. This bill is the wrong answer at the wrong time for our Nation's miners. There is a better way.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. BOSWELL. Mr. Chairman, I think we all agree that, first and foremost, safety is the top priority for everyone involved in the mining industry. We, as a Congress, must ensure that legislation is heading in the right direction for the health and safety of American miners. Over the past several years, we have seen bad safety conditions and the devastating effects these conditions can have, not only on communities, but on human life.
We also must recognize the fact that not all mining operations are the same. [Page: H47]
Repeat. Not all mining operations are the same. So I understand, Mr. Chairman, that you will continue to work with us Members, that you just said a moment ago, to address any concerns the bill raises as it moves through the process. And I want to thank Chairman Miller for his leadership on this issue and his willingness to continue to work and listen to other Members
on the issue. He in fact is a true champion of our Nation's workers.
Again, I would like to thank him for yielding this time.
Mr. KLINE of Minnesota. Mr. Chairman, today I rise in favor of mine safety but in strong opposition to the S-MINER Act.
Unfortunately, the bill as written does little to improve safety in our Nation's mines. As someone who voted for the MINER Act, I am concerned that this legislation derails much of what has already been achieved. I appreciate that there is concern about the speed of implementation, but the answer is not to call a halt to the work that has already been done and completely turn direction.
We have heard from mine engineering academics that this bill is flawed. We have heard from over 28 industry groups that this bill interrupts the progress being made in mine safety, while the Mine Safety and Health Administration's opinion has been dismissed by the other side, apparently until today, when we are going to turn over to MSHA the issue of drug testing. The President has issued a veto threat citing safety concerns.
The statement of administration policy specifically states, ``The requirement to use boreholes to sample behind mine seals weakens existing safety standards since boreholes have metal casings that could introduce an ignition source, such as lightning, into an area of the mine that may contain explosive methane. The S-MINER bill would weaken current regulations requiring a mine operator to contact the Mine Safety and Health Administration within 15 minutes of a serious accident by creating a two-tiered
notification system of 15 minutes or 1 hour depending on the severity of the incident.''
I question how in good conscience we can be considering legislation that, according to the very people who enforce the law, weakens current regulations.
This bill is going to mandate the use of refuge chambers, examples of which were demonstrated on Capitol Hill. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, tested several of these units and found serious deficiencies.
In a letter to the State of West Virginia, NIOSH expressed concerns stating, ``Since findings from our field testing raise issues about the performance of such refuge chambers, NIOSH believes it is imperative to inform you of our findings as soon as possible before deployment of refuge chambers.''
Mr. Chairman, later today I will join my committee colleague, Mr. Wilson, in offering an amendment in the nature of a substitute. This is a Republican substitute that does not upend the mine safety progress currently under way.
I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the S-MINER Act.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 30 seconds.
The gentleman should have finished reading the rest of the letter where NIOSH says that these technical modifications can be addressed quickly. And, in fact, the preliminary feedback is that manufacturers have already made many of these, and they have already been implemented. Read the whole letter. I suggest that the gentleman on the other side of the aisle read the legislation, and when they want to introduce evidence, read the complete evidence.
I yield 4 minutes to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Woolsey).
Ms. WOOLSEY. Mr. Chairman, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of H.R. 2768, the S-MINER Act. The health and safety of miners is too important to ignore or to delay, and it is vitally important that we act now, not tomorrow, not in another year, to pass this critical legislation.
I want to commend Chairman Miller for putting together comprehensive legislation that actually tackles the problems plaguing mining for many, many years.
With this legislation, we can prevent the appalling loss of life that we have had in the past couple of years at Sago, at Darby, at Aracoma, and most recently at Crandall Canyon in Utah.
Since the year 2006, about 80 miners have been killed at their workplaces. And that is in the 21st century. Don't forget, this is the 21st century.
Now it is true that working conditions for miners have improved over the years, and we have come a long ways since the turn of the last century when thousands of miners died every year. But miners, who provide a valuable service to this country at great danger to themselves, are still dying as a result of incidents that were preventable had everyone been following the law.
And black lung, a disease we thought had pretty much been eradicated, is back with a vengeance. This is absolutely unacceptable.
I have heard on numerous occasions that miners love their jobs. So our job for them is to keep them as healthy and safe as possible so they will return home every night to their families at the end of the working day and that they will return safe and healthy.
The Subcommittee on Workforce Protection, which I chair, had a hearing on this legislation in July. And the S-MINER Act actually puts teeth in the MINER Act which Congress passed in 2006. Let me mention a few provisions which I think highlight why this legislation is so very important.
For example, while we know that true wireless communications systems are not yet fully developed, technologies do exist that greatly improve communications between miners below ground with those on the surface. The MINER Act requires that wireless communications systems be installed, but not until the year 2009. Miners can't wait until 2009. And the S-MINER Act mandates that miners have communication capabilities now instead of having to go without until the most perfect system has been developed.
One of the things that is so outrageous, as I said, in this day and age is that black lung is back, a disease everyone thought was eradicated. This legislation, the S-MINER Act, requires the use by each miner of a personal dust monitor so that exposure to coal dust can be cut in half. And because the committee recognizes it could be a burden for mine operators to provide this equipment to their employees, the manager's amendment authorizes $30 million for MSHA to pay for those devices.
In addition, the Crandall Canyon disaster showed us once again that retreat mining is a perilous activity, and this legislation requires MSHA to closely review these plans.
Another thing the families of miners told us was that miners were afraid to come forward to report safety and health violations. So this legislation provides for a miner ombudsman to be appointed to process complaints and assist whistleblowers with their cases.
And finally, this legislation requires that physicians be created at MSHA to be in charge of communicating with families and the community while a rescue effort is going on.
In developing this legislation, we have done our utmost to reach out across the aisle and to all interest groups, including industry, to come up with a bipartisan bill.
While industry does not support this bill, and shame on them, many of their concerns are reflected in the current legislation and in Mr. Miller's manager's amendment.
Mr. Chairman, this is the 21st century and we must have 21st century solutions to adequately protect miners in this country. Vote for the S-MINER Act.
Mr. HARE. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in strong support of this critical piece of legislation. [Page: H48]
Mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, and our laws have not kept up with the changes in the industry. As a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, I participated in several hearings on this issue. At one in particular, I was touched by the little boy whose father had just been killed in the Crandall Canyon tragedy. It is for him and the countless other children who will grow up without a mom or a dad that I believe, as Members of Congress, we have
the responsibility to do all we can to ensure that our miners are safe and come home to their families safely every night.
The recent tragedies at Sago, Darby and Crandall Canyon mines have made it apparent that the MINER Act of 2006 has fallen short in some areas. The legislation we are considering today addresses these areas. I am particularly pleased that the bill grants MSHA the authority to shut down mines that have neglected to pay fines for safety violations. Additionally, the retreat mining and whistleblower protections are much-needed improvements in the bill.
While the MINER Act of 2006 was a very good first step towards improving mine safety, it is clear that more work must be done. I believe today's bill will take us that one step further in making mining a little safer. I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on this important legislation.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. I thank the gentleman for his support of this legislation, and more importantly, to thank him for all of his support on behalf of workers during our first session of Congress. I thank you for your attendance at the hearings and advocacy and questions on behalf of workers. I know of your very strong interest in miners, and I want to thank you for your advocacy on behalf of all workers.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, I thank the distinguished chairman of the Education and Labor Committee for yielding me this time, and commend him for his career, lifelong service of dedication to our working men and women of this country. Chairman George Miller has certainly shown over his career in this body that there is no person that will take a second seat to him as far as protecting the health, safety, and well-being of our working men and women.
Mr. Chairman, there are those who have argued on the other side that this measure, coming on the heels of major mine safety legislation in 2006, is too much too soon. They argue that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is struggling to fix numerous problems and must be allowed to implement one bill before additional legislative mandates are hefted upon them.
Now, that argument has a valid point. And yes, the industry is making strides to improve safety, especially in my home State of West Virginia.
But an equally valid argument can be made that the Congress should not simply sit back and hope that MSHA follows through on needed improvements. To do so would be to neglect our duty to serve as a check, and we must not return to the hands-off mentality that allowed MSHA to slip into its recent dismal state of decline.
This legislation seeks to return to MSHA the business of protecting our Nation's miners, plain and simple. This should be our overall goal. MSHA has strayed too far from its mission, and the MINER Act did not touch some challenges that most agree need to be addressed. This bill supports a course correction that now is taking place. It sets a high bar because its purpose is the highest: the protection of the lives of our coal miners. And in this regard, we can never be too vigilant when it comes
to protecting the health and safety and well-being of our Nation's coal miners.
Most coal companies in my State work hard to ensure improved workplace safety, and they are making significant investment, for which they deserve commendation. Likewise, most of the employees of MSHA, including those in my home State, are well-intentioned, dedicated and hardworking. These individuals put their lives on the line to save other lives, and they should be recognized for that.
As well, my home State of West Virginia, above all others, has taken the challenge of improving mine conditions seriously. But none of this excuses the management of MSHA from doing its job, and it certainly does not excuse the Federal legislative branch from its responsibility to ensure that the senior Federal agency charged with the safety of our coal miners fulfills its statutory mission.
First and foremost, MSHA is supposed to inspect mines to ensure that they are abiding by the law to operate as safely as possible. That is its most fundamental job, its reason for existence. But yet, we found that MSHA last year failed to complete more than 40 percent of its required quarterly inspections in my own congressional district alone. That fact speaks most compellingly for the need for this legislation.
This bill would address that deadly lack of inspections at mines in southern West Virginia. It aims to provide for badly needed increases in the ranks of highly trained inspectors, including bringing experienced retirees back into service and directing limited resources into the field where they are needed most.
So given these conditions, Mr. Chairman, again I commend Chairman Miller and urge passage of this legislation.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Mr. Chairman, here we go again; another nail in the coffin of energy independence. Another nail, in fact, adding to the unemployment rate.
If this bill was to become law, mines will be shut down. They will be shut down. And what bothers me the most is we had a bipartisan bill, actually it was passed in 2006, I believe, or 2007, that improved the 1977 Mine Safety Health Act. It was supported by everybody, that side and this side, the administration. And we have not given the time, that's less than a year and a half, given the time for the operators of these mines to even reach that requirement that we said was the right thing to
Now, it always amazes me. I don't think there's much coal mining in Vallejo or in the Bay Area or in Point Reyes. And I do respect the gentleman from West Virginia because he does have mining. And I've heard from his operators in that area that there's a very difficult thought process going forth with this bill. Can they operate? Because in this bill, they stop the ability for belt air, which, in fact, was put in for safety purposes, supported by the people who understand this, for diluting methane
and dust levels, and this bill prohibits that. How is that improving the life of our miners? It is not.
And more than that, I want to remind people. As bad as it may appear, as very much, you know, heart wrenching when there is a death in a mine, we still have the safest mining industry in the world. China lost 6,000 people, that we know of last year in their coal mines; building one new coal fired plant a week.
And here we are, with this bill, if it was to become law, again, adding another nail in our coffin for energy independence. Coal is a solution to this terrible dependence that we have on foreign oil.
I was a little disappointed today when I saw the President ask the OPEC countries to produce more oil so we can lower the price.
Our fault in this country is we're not producing oil on our lands, which we have, and we're not producing the coal, which we have an abundance of. And I believe, when saying this under the guise of helping the miner out, we are jeopardizing their jobs, jeopardizing [Page: H49]
the economy in this country, and driving us further into the depression which may occur.
If that does happen, I want to compliment that side of the aisle, because you haven't addressed the issue of energy. And I'm a little bit disappointed. I watched all the Presidential debates. Not even on my side, let alone that side, has anybody talked about solving the energy problem in this country. We must address that issue because our economy is based on energy that can move product. Every ship is fossilly driven. Every train is fossilly driven. Every truck is fossilly driven. Every car,
everything you eat and everything you consume is delivered to you by fossil fuels.
Now, we can improve nuclear power to give us fixed power, and we can burn coal, and we can use solar, and we can use hydro. We can do all these things. But there's fixed power. And we, as a Nation, and this Congress have not got to the point where we understand if we don't do something, we keep sending the dollars abroad, there's a great possibility that this whole economy we have will implode.
I'm saying, wake up, Mr. and Mrs. America. Start asking your Members of Congress, let's do something about energy. You can't conserve yourself into a prosperity position. You've got to have new energy, new production. Yes, drilling. Offshore in California, shame on you. Offshore in Florida, shame on Florida. Offshore in Alaska, shame on Alaska. We must start developing our fossil fuels in the Rocky Mountains. We must start at the Roan Plateau, which you took off the table. The Roan Plateau, have
that developed. We have to start doing what is necessary to make sure we're no longer dependent on those foreign countries that are not our friends.
So I urge a ``no'' on this bill because it's another nail in the coffin that creates in this country more weaknesses and not the ability to provide for the future generations.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. I yield myself 30 seconds.
The gentleman from Alaska is quite correct. It's a pathetic sight to see the President of the United States begging the Saudi prince to release more oil 8 years after that President has been in office; several energy bills passed by the Republican Congress, and the President is left going hat in hand begging the Saudi prince for more oil. It just shows the opportunity cost of this administration, of that Republican Congress and the pathetic energy policy that we were left with.
The new energy bill, however, reverses that trend. I'm very proud to be part of it.
Mr. BISHOP of New York. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 2768, the S-MINER Act.
Over the past year the Education and Labor Committee, of which I am a member, has held several hearings on the topic of mine safety. During those hearings, witness after witness asked that the Federal Government take stronger actions to protect the health and safety of miners. Hearing their call to action, we are here today to pass landmark legislation that will save the lives of countless miners.
H.R. 2768 builds upon the MINER Act to boost prevention efforts, improve emergency response and reduce health risks. The MINER Act, which passed during the last session of Congress in response to the Sago mining disaster, made important steps in protecting miners, but implementation has been slow, and more needs to be done. Sadly, since H.R. 2768 was introduced, miners have been seriously injured or killed while on the job. That is why it is crucial for this Congress to act now and pass this
This Congress has been entrusted with the responsibility to make sure that all workers are protected at their workplace. We take that responsibility seriously. And I am proud to support this bill which will take the necessary steps in safeguarding the health and safety of America's miners.
I want to thank and commend Chairman Miller for introducing this legislation and moving it so quickly to the floor. And I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on H.R. 2768.
Mrs. CAPITO. I'd like to thank the ranking member for his recognition.
Over the past several years, this country has witnessed a series of tragic mining disasters, starting with the 12 miners killed on January 3, 2006 at the Sago Mine in my district. I know the families, I know the communities, and this is a wound that will never heal. This tragedy was followed by more deaths in accidents around the country, and each of these disasters has identified and highlighted deficiencies in the protection afforded miners.
In response to Sago and the other mine disasters, Congress enacted the MINER Act. We did it in a bipartisan way. It was a very proud day for me, as a West Virginian, to stand with my fellow West Virginians, several Governors, the President of the United States. Members of my own community, from the Sago community, came to the signing to sign the MINER Act. I'm proud of that effort, and I'm proud of the efforts that the companies have moved forward to improve the safety since the enactment of
the MINER Act. It has substantially tightened regulations and enforcement procedures, and the mining industry has made significant changes in operations and equipment to comply with the strengthened requirements.
A number of Federal agencies and several State agencies, West Virginia has been very aggressive in this regard, has pushed reforms to better respond to incidents that occur and how we can improve the chances of miners to survive a serious accident. Today more self-contained self-rescuers are being stored underground than in the past, and that is a good positive first step.
With the success of the original MINER Act in mind, I do hold some reservations that additional legislation could complicate the safety improvements currently under way, and I am not alone in my concern. I encourage my colleagues to keep this in mind if this legislation moves forward.
Unfortunately, the events of Sago serve as a reminder that we must always strive to make America's mines as safe as they can possibly be.
This bill is flawed in many ways. The junior Senator from West Virginia has publicly expressed his concern, and I have concern that this bill will hold up some of the progress as it has moved forward.
But at the end of the day, for me, this is about those Sago miners, and their tragedies stay with me. My hope is that we can continue the good work that has moved forward as a result of the MINER Act. It is crucial that Congress continue to highlight mine safety so that the tragedies we've seen in West Virginia and across the Nation are not repeated.
Mr. YARMUTH. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in strong support of the S-MINER Act because it will quite simply and without doubt save the lives of innocent Americans. It could have saved the life of my fellow Kentuckian, Jimmy Lee, whose widow Melissa I met this past year. She courageously came to us for help because, though it was too late to save her Jimmy, we still had the chance to prevent more loving spouses from becoming courageous widows.
Yesterday, Melissa and 27 other Kentuckians sent me a letter. Each has lost a father, son or husband in a preventable mine disaster, and each urges the implementation of this legislation.
I found it very interesting to listen to my colleague from across the aisle, the gentleman from Alaska. And he used the term on a number of occasions, a nail in the coffin: And this is what we're talking about.
In my case, today, I'm talking about a letter from 28 Kentuckians who had to put their relatives, their loved ones in coffins and bury them because this government has not done what it can and should do to protect them.
In any event, the White House threatens a veto, not so much because it disagrees, but because the Department of Labor still hasn't implemented the last law. Congress is here to act when bureaucracies drag their feet. And here the consequences of the administration stonewalling are disastrous.
This is one of those choices we face in this era. We face the decision between money and lives. And as I said during the hearing when we looked into the Darby disaster and Sago and Crandall Canyon, we need to have a country and a government that value the lives of the miners as much as what they bring out of the ground. That's what this legislation is all about. That's what we stand here to do. And that's why I congratulate the chairman for his courageous act and his passion for this cause.
So with that, I urge my colleagues and the President to join me in supporting the Supplemental Mining Improvement and New Emergency Response Act. And I urge them to begin saving lives today.
Mr. WILSON of South Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I thank Congressman McKeon very much for the introduction. I appreciate his leadership on the committee.
I speak in opposition to the bill and in favor of mine safety, as fully explained by the Statement of Administration Policy dated January 15, 2008, from the Office of Management and Budget.
In 2006, the President signed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response, MINER, Act, the most significant mine safety legislation in nearly 30 years. The administration has worked with miners, mine owners, miners' representatives, and other stakeholders in the mining industry to meet the safety improvement goals set forth in the original MINER Act, including issuing regulations to strengthen emergency mine evacuation practices, improve the strength requirements for seals, and increase civil
penalties. In addition, on December 26, 2007, the President signed the Omnibus Appropriations Act, which mandates additional rulemaking on belt air and refuge chambers on rigorous timetables.
H.R. 2768, the Supplemental Mine Improvement New Emergency Response Act, the S-MINER bill, would place in jeopardy meaningful achievements and efforts currently under way as a result of these measures. In particular, several of the regulatory mandates in the S-MINER bill would weaken several existing regulations and overturn regulatory processes that were required by the MINER Act and are ongoing.
These changes would provide no opportunity for stakeholder participation in the regulatory process and would impose burdensome and unrealistic time requirements. The S-MINER bill would also fundamentally change the investigation of mining accidents and jeopardize the ability to hold mine operators accountable for violations of mine safety regulations.
For these reasons, the administration strongly opposes House passage of the bill. If H.R. 2768 were presented to the President in its current form, the President's senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill.
The S-MINER bill requires new regulations on the strength of mine seals, even though a new emergency temporary standard on mine seals was issued in May 2007 and a final regulation will be issued in February 2008. To reopen this process would cause confusion within the industry and put on hold improvements already being made to underground mine seals.
The S-MINER bill would weaken current regulations requiring a mine operator to contact the Mine Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, within 15 minutes of a serious accident by creating a new two-tiered notification system of 15 minutes or 1 hour, depending on the severity of the incident.
Of particular concern is a provision requiring the MSHA to adopt the recommended exposure limits issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as permissible exposure limits, PELs. This provision overturns a Federal court decision that requires agencies like the MSHA to perform a risk assessment prior to issuing a PEL. This provision would mandate the adoption of potentially hundreds of PELs without any input from stakeholders and without determination of whether the PEL
is economically and technologically feasible.
The S-MINER bill would allow a stakeholder to challenge a PEL only after its issuance. This process undermines the rigor of the normal rulemaking process and places the burden [Page: H51]
of proof of technological and economic feasibility on stakeholders instead of the Department of Labor.
The S-MINER bill would potentially quadruple the number of investigations into multi-injury or multifatality accidents by adding a requirement for another investigation by an independent investigative team and by giving the Chemical Safety Board, as well as the Office of the Inspector General within the Department of Labor, the right to investigate mine accidents. These provisions undermine the government's ability to hold accountable mine operators who violate mine safety and health regulations
since multiple investigations potentially using different methodologies and reaching different conclusions could prejudice the government's ability to prosecute civil or criminal investigations of mine safety and health standards that contributed to or exacerbated an accident.
Current law gives MSHA the sole authority to investigate mine accidents, and when MSHA investigators uncover possible criminal violations, they identify the necessary enforcement action to take against a mine operator and make an appropriate referral to the Department of Justice.
Mr. LOEBSACK. Mr. Chairman, in recent years we have seen several mine tragedies that cost the lives of hardworking individuals. Our first thought should always be the safety of mine workers. We must ensure there are adequate regulations in place to provide the safest working environments possible.
Iowa is a proud home to many limestone producers. While they share our goal of protecting mine workers, we must also recognize the differences between limestone mining and coal mining. These local producers are concerned that some provisions in this bill may harm small businesses. These businesses provide jobs in our local communities and are critical to Iowa's continued economic development.
I want to thank the chairman for his work on this bill and for his willingness to continue a dialogue on this issue. As this bill continues to move through the legislative process, I hope we can reach a compromise supported by workers, industry, Congress, and the administration.
Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Chairman, I thank the chairman for yielding.
In the spring of 2007 at the Crandall Canyon Mine, retreat mining began, and when they started the retreat mining on the north side of the mountain, there were indications that there could be trouble. There were literally noises, sounds, that say there could be trouble. So they stopped.
In June of 2007, the company conducting that mining went to the mine safety regulators, the Federal Government, and said we want to now do on the south side of the mountain what we stopped doing on the north side of the mountain. In just over a week, 9 days as I recall, the Federal regulators said go ahead and do it. How much care could they have taken in that analysis in that short period of time? Tragically, in August of 2007, nine people lost their lives.
Here's what this bill would change. It would say that the next time a mining company submits a retreat mining plan, they've got to have a computer model of what might happen when they start. They've got to send people from the mine safety agency to the mine to watch that it's being done the right way, and they've got to look at every possible technology that could be used to protect and save people's lives.
Tonight, nine families have an empty chair at the dinner table because of the tragedy that occurred at Crandall Canyon. I can't assure any of those people that we would avoid a future tragedy, but we have to try, and this bill is an intelligent, good-faith effort in that regard. It deserves the vote of every Democrat and every Republican. It deserves to become law.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. I'm the only speaker. We were looking for a gentlewoman to do a colloquy, but she's not here. If she shows up, I would do the colloquy with her, but I wouldn't take additional time. So you can go ahead and use your time.
Mr. McKEON. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Today we've heard a great deal about how to keep miners safe. It should go without saying that mine safety is the proposition to which we're all committed. However, we're not here today debating whether to protect miners. Instead, we're here considering a bill that would actually derail the most comprehensive mine safety overhaul in decades.
All of us are for mine safety. You know, during this campaign, I have been listening to some of the candidates running, and I think the feeling amongst many people is that Washington is broken and that we don't seem to attack things that are really important.
Well, in 2006, we passed a miner safety bill, the first one in 30 years. That was passed with the support of 381 Members to 37 Members here in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
Now here we are less than 2 years later talking about another bill that's going to, after a 30-year hiatus, we pass a bill, we're doing what we can to implement that bill. By the time regulations are written, by the time people are trained on enforcing those regulations, by the time the mine owners put those regulations into effect, it takes some time, and then here we're stepping on that bill with a new approach to change some things.
And we heard from Mr. Wilson the President's response and why he says we should give the time to fully implement the bill that was just passed less than 2 years ago. It makes sense. We live in a large country, and to try to disseminate this information and get it all into effect takes some time, and we're just saying that's why people think Washington's broke. We're stepping on something that we haven't even implemented yet.
And I don't question any motives because I think the motives are good. We should be out to protect miners. It's just which way will protect them best: implementing the bill that was already passed overwhelmingly or trying to pass a bill that will step on some of those concerns.
This law was only given 1 1/2 years to take hold, as mentioned. It's already having an impact on our Nation's mines. Stringent safety standards are being put in place and they're being enforced. A recent article in a mining industry publication explored the impact on the mines as seen from the eyes of a miner.
He says, ``As you can imagine, the regulatory environment for safety has [Page: H52]
evolved a lot in the last few months, and we're seeing as much as a 50 percent increase in underground mine inspections on an annualized basis.'' That's the words of a miner to an analyst.
With all the progress that has been made, it seems to me that the last thing we should be considering is the disruption of that momentum, yet that's exactly what will happen if the S-MINER Act becomes law. This bill discards the expert studies already under way, replacing the wisdom and recommendations of professionals with arbitrary mandates from Washington.
Although the bill purports to protect miners, in reality it threatens the jobs we rely on. That's another thing that I'm learning, that people are very interested in the economy and jobs, and here we have an effort that probably will cut jobs. With $1 billion in unfunded mandates in the underlying bill, the majority's attempt to mask these burdensome costs by extending the implementation timeline is a weak attempt to divert attention from the toll that will be taken on the mining community.
Mr. Chairman, as a strong supporter of mine safety, I want to be clear that there is a better way to protect the interests of the Nation's miners. We can stand for strong safety protections without diverting attention and resources from the work already under way. Later today, Representatives Wilson and Kline will offer an amendment to do exactly that. The Wilson/Kline amendment incorporates a strong drug testing requirement that will protect miners from the dangers of illegal
substance abuse in the already dangerous mining environment.
I am pleased to see our colleagues on the other side of the aisle joining us in our concern about the danger and devastation of drug use among miners. I am saddened, however, by the appearance of cynicism in the last-minute addition of this issue to the manager's package. I hope they will join us in supporting a real solution in the form of drug testing, something that our colleague, Charlie Norwood, who passed away last year, had been working on for years before, rather than a mere study that
provides more political cover than genuine safety protections.
Despite the best intentions of its sponsors, this bill will do much more harm than good. It will layer new rules and requirements on top of the critical mine safety reforms already in place. With this bill, we are abandoning the bipartisan reforms of the 2006 MINER Act and abandoning all the progress that has been made.
Members on both sides of the aisle have expressed concern that this legislation is premature. A group of seven respected Democrats representing districts with a history of underground and surface mining wrote to the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee to urge us to proceed with caution. From them I quote: ``We believe that before moving forward on new mine safety legislation, it would be prudent for the committee to wait for the conclusion of the studies called for in the MINER Act
and the implementation of all the major requirements of the MINER Act.'' They were right. The academic experts are right. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is right. The National Mining Association is right. Each of these stakeholders understands that the S-MINER Act is the wrong bill at the wrong time.
As a strong supporter of mine safety, I have no choice but to oppose this bill. I urge my colleagues to do the same.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
Ms. KILPATRICK. First, let me congratulate you for a fine piece of legislation for the safety of our coal miners and others who need to make sure that our people working in the mines across this country are safe and that they have a working atmosphere that is safe for them and for their families. I congratulate you on that act.
In Michigan, in my district specifically, we have salt mines; no explosions, they aren't dangerous, and this act also covers our salt mines. I live under some of the salt mines. I live over the salt mines, I might add. They are a hundred years old. We've never had a collapse. They don't have the same requirements. They provide critical infrastructure needs that we have in our community, and have been very, very good business partners in our community for over 100 years. I worry that, with this
legislation, they may be penalized and have to come under some of the limits, air limits, the larger fines, and the impact of those. So, I am asking, can you assure us that our salt mines in Michigan and my constituents, that this S-MINER will not be unfairly applied to them?
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. I want to thank you for your support of this legislation. I would note that the manager's amendment will slow down the required schedule of underground mines to convert to the new more fire-resistant conveyer belts. These belts will help prevent deaths in all kinds of underground mines. And the amendment will ensure that mine operators have a chance to use up the perfectly good belts that they have in their inventory.
Also, the S-MINER Act will not adopt new safety standards for underground non-coal mines, except for the conveyor belt, and in this case, the mines which regularly emit methane gas, new rules for explosion-proof seals. It certainly does not treat these mines like coal mines.
The current air quality standards for underground salt mines are based on 1973 rules established by a private organization and incorporated by reference into the MSHA regulations. It is hard to even locate a copy of these old standards. It is the intent of S-MINER to adopt air standards that are justified by the unbiased scientific evidence as preventing health risks to miners and are feasible for the mines to achieve. If mine operators object to the new mine health limits based upon concerns
of technological or economic feasibility, the bill requires them to fully analyze these concerns before adopting new standards. By speeding up the rulemaking process, we want to accelerate MSHA to address real hazards, but do not intend to adopt unsupported standards that do not create significant benefits or are not feasible for compliance.
The S-MINER Act does increase minimum and maximum penalties for violation of requirements that specifically protect the health and safety in underground metal and non-metal mines. However, it leaves in place the requirements in the law that small mines get a break, that a mine operator's history is a factor in assessment, and that the degree of negligence and seriousness of the hazard is to be considered.
Also, I want to note that our colleague, Congressman Ellsworth, has an amendment which would eliminate the requirement from the bill that concerns many of your constituents with respect to escrowing proposed penalties before contest.