Mr. WILSON of South Carolina. I yield myself such time as I may consume. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of mine safety and in opposition to this bill.
The Wilson/Kline amendment combines the key elements of the Wilson amendment offered in committee with the important safety teams amendment also considered during markup. There is much that we do not know about the tragedy of Crandall Canyon. It would be premature to legislate on many of these issues until the Crandall Canyon investigation is complete. Once the investigation is complete, we can determine if any further initiatives are necessary. It also should be noted that few, if any, of the
provisions in the underlying legislation would have had any impact in preventing the accident in Utah this summer.
Our amendment would require the Department of Labor to more regularly communicate with the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, regarding safety concerns. Given that personnel from the BLM inspect mines daily, the Mine Safety Health Administration, MSHA, should have the benefit of knowing what BLM is observing and what concerns the agency has regarding safety.
Our amendment would also require two studies: one to address deep mine safety, and another to address pillar removal. Regarding deep mining, it is no secret that the mining industry is mining deeper underground. In order to assure that they have the most sophisticated science available to them, a study about the elements of deep mining should be undertaken. It is also important to recognize that deep mining and pillar removal are two separate issues, and our amendment was crafted accordingly
to give each issue thorough consideration.
Finally, there is great concern about how information during a mine rescue and recovery effort is communicated to the public. Our amendment would create a public relations protocol similar to that used by the National Transportation Safety Board. In this way, all parties to the rescue and recovery effort must clear any information through MSHA before releasing it to the public.
This amendment takes the NTSB's well-regarded approach to communications. Before anyone associated with the rescue and recovery effort can make public comments, they must be approved by MSHA. In this way, we can ensure that the families have been fully briefed, that any information given to the media is factual, and that it does not interfere with the ongoing efforts of any future investigation.
The S-MINER Act may address some of these issues, but ultimately the underlying bill is not narrowly crafted to focus on the Crandall Canyon tragedy. Instead, it provides for a complete rewrite of a successful law. In addition to these four specific policy opportunities that respond to the tragedy that occurred at the Crandall Canyon mine, our substitute builds on the MINER Act by actively engaging miners in safety teams and implementing substance abuse testing. It is important to note that the
MINER Act was the most significant piece of mining legislation passed in 30 years, which was signed into law in 2006.
The Wilson/Kline substitute ensures that the MINER Act is not derailed by excessive new regulations. The MINER Act has put in motion regulations, studies, and industry improvements that will be negatively impacted by H.R. 2768. I oppose the S-MINER Act and urge you to vote in favor of the Wilson/Kline substitute.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. What this amendment would do would be to strike many of the very important provisions in the underlying bill that are there to protect the lives and the safety of those who mine coal in this country's coal mines. They would change the retreat mining where we just saw a disaster of a mine accident in Utah this last August. They would provide a provision of a study. Rather [Page: H68]
than changing the regulations by which that happened,
they would provide a study. A study was not going to save those miners.
They would also take out the provision that we have that miners should have 96 hours of air available to them in the mines until such time as we have the refuge chambers. They take that out. Those miners need that air today. The fact that a refuge chamber is on order, may not be delivered for six months, a year, a year and a half, does nothing for the miner who goes to work today and tomorrow, and that is why we did it. We did it so that we could provide that margin of safety for those individuals.
We also look at conveyor belts, a major ignition point of fires in the mine, and if not properly installed, if not properly taken care of, can take the fire and the gases directly to where the miners are working. So they take that provision out.
We say that MSHA cannot investigate itself. It cannot investigate itself. These must be independent investigations, because you have to look at whether or not MSHA properly did its job, properly enforced the requirements of the law, properly inspected the mines and all that that entails, and to have them redo that themselves is a disservice to the miners and to the families. It's the single most provided complaint to this committee by the families, that they just don't understand how the watch
dog can investigate themselves when their family members died in these mines. They want somebody else to take a look at it. They want somebody else to see whether or not it was done properly or not, and that is out in this provision.
It also limits the family participation. Why is it that the victims aren't able to testify and to participate and understand the design of the investigation? They are excluded from this process today. These are family members, these are victims of the disaster, these are taxpayers, and they're told, Just stand on the side, we'll tell you what happened. In many instances, they know more about what happens because when their spouses come home from work, they talk to them about what is wrong in
the mines, what's dangerous, about their fear of going to work. So we provided an ombudsman so that that could happen. They should also be part of that investigation.
We think it's very important that this amendment be defeated because it wipes out, it guts those provisions of the law that we envision in this legislation that are so important to those miners and to their families. We cannot do what we have done in the past and assume that we can just leave this to the Mine Safety Health Administration. They essentially did nothing for 8 years.
Now, tragically, year after year those mining families are paying the price for that. That must come to an end. That is what this legislation does. This amendment destroys the ability of this legislation to provide that margin of safety to the miners and to their families, and I urge a ``no'' vote on the Wilson amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. KLINE of Minnesota. I thank the gentleman for yielding the time.
Mr. Chairman, like my colleague from South Carolina, I rise today in strong support of mine safety and in opposition to the base bill. Rather than supporting this flawed bill, I would ask Members to support the Wilson/Kline amendment. This amendment is a sensible alternative that will enhance mine safety without undoing the significant reforms already underway. During the numerous hearings we have held in the Education and Labor Committee on mining issues, one thing we have heard frequently from
miners themselves and from their family members and from their representatives is that when it comes to mines and mine safety, it is the men and women who go into the mines every day that know best.
I would like to focus my comments today, first, on one particular aspect of our amendment, and that is to engage miners in their own safety. Our amendment recognizes that miners themselves do know best and seeks to ensure that mine owners and operators are allowed to avail themselves of the knowledge, experience, and talents of their employees. To that end, this amendment would allow mine operators to incorporate meaningful employee involvement in safety committees, which include representatives
of workers and mine operators, and work together to ensure that the safest workplace conditions are possible.
Although cooperation between miners and mine operators seems obvious, if not imperative, it is, unfortunately, not always a reality. Under archaic provisions of Federal labor law, too often employer-employee safety committees that actually do something have been found to run afoul of Depression-era mandates.
Mr. Chairman, we are no longer living in the 1930s, and neither should our laws. Nearly 2 years ago, we began to bring the mining industry into the 21st century by considering and enacting the MINER Act. Though it is not yet fully implemented, that law is already working. Today, my colleague Mr. Wilson and I are offering an amendment that builds on the MINER Act, rather than tearing it down.
A key element of our plan is to ensure that antiquated laws don't get in the way of mine worker safety. In fact, our amendment is based on the eminently sensible TEAM Act which was considered by this Congress some years ago and would have provided for safer workplaces for all employees, not just miners.
I don't know that anyone can argue that safety committees in mines should not make full use of their workers' wisdom and experience. For that reason, I urge my colleagues to support the Wilson/Kline amendment as a commonsense, pro-miner alternative. Use of miner-involved safety committees is just one element of our substitute, but I believe it accurately captures our goal of enhancing safety while maintaining momentum of the MINER Act.
I have been interested today to listen to the proponents of the bill and the opponents of our amendment talk about the importance of breathable air and getting these containers into the mines, but I don't understand if the chamber is not available, what is the mine supposed to do while we are waiting what is admittedly 6 months or 12 months for the chamber to arrive? The base bill is so prescriptive, it prevents any alternative to the prescribed chamber, and those chambers are simply not available.
I really wish we had the answer to that question.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time I may consume.
Just in response to the question that was asked, the whole point is the chambers are not available. We are asking that they put 96 hours of air available in canisters until such time as the refuge chambers are available. Currently now, apparently if you order a chamber, you are considered to be in compliance. No new air has come into that mine. No new resources of air are available. Nothing is available to the miner, but you are in compliance with the law.
We saw miners lose their lives because they simply ran out of air. They weren't killed in the explosion. They weren't killed in a slide. They weren't killed in a roof collapse. They ran out of air.
So what we are saying is we appreciate that you have gone ahead and you have ordered the chambers because you have made the decision to put the chambers in. Until such time as they are there, we ought to provide that kind of margin of safety. One is not inconsistent with the other.
Mr. KLINE of Minnesota. If the gentleman will yield for just a minute, I think that they are. I don't understand where that air is supposed to come from. The SCSRs are not available. Those are on back order. Refuge chambers are not available. They are on back order. What are these miners supposed to do?
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. These are air cylinders that are readily available. These are not the individual-sized packs that we deal with here in terms of inspections that didn't work in the Sago Mine. Canisters of air are readily available all throughout American society. We just say you should [Page: H69]
put some in the mines so people can use them.
Then let me just say the question that is raised here, currently the law allows for employer and employee involvement in safety issues. Many, many organizations and businesses have these committees. But we want those committees to remain independent.
This suggests that somehow the employer should select those employees to engage in those discussions. We think that the workers ought to be able to do that and do it independently so that, in fact, they can have a true discussion about the conditions and the safety of the mines and not be establishing unilateral committees to make those determinations.
The fact of the matter is, where people have these employer-employee safety committees, very often the efficiency of the mines improves, the productivity of the mines improves and the safety improves, and we think that that is the model that ought to be continued.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. McKEON. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding. I rise in strong support of the Wilson/Kline amendment to preserve bipartisan mine safety reforms.
The S-MINER Act is based on a flawed premise. It begins by abandoning the widely supported mine safety reforms enacted in 2006. Rather than building on the progress that has been made, the S-MINER Act brings those bipartisan reforms to a screeching halt.
Republicans have a better way. The Wilson/Kline amendment strikes the appropriate balance between strengthening mine safety and maintaining the widely supported reforms enacted less than 2 years ago.
First and foremost, the substitute underscores the importance of the MINER Act reforms and restates our commitment to seeing them implemented fully and forcefully. Our substitute builds on those reforms rather than tearing them down.
Among the most important steps taken in the Republican substitute is the effort to fully, more fully engage the miners in mine safety. During the Education and Labor Committee's consideration of this bill, Representative Kline offered an amendment that, like our substitute, would empower miners by directly involving them in the development of safety policies and procedures through the formation of safety teams. Currently, nonunionized miners may be prohibited from working with management
to promote safety through teams.
Mine safety is too important an issue to fall victim to the politics of unionization. Every miner should have the opportunity to work cooperatively with the mine operator to promote their own safety and the safety of those with them in the mines.
To further protect miners, the Republican substitute calls for a strong program of drug testing. In fact, the Republican plan is the only proposal that offers drug testing. Representative Boucher is proposing drug rehabilitation, an important first step, but one that will be incomplete without testing. Indeed, Representative Boucher's own State of Virginia has taken a leadership role on requiring drug testing in the mines, something the Federal Government should require as well.
Sadly, the proposal offered in the manager's package would do even less, calling for just a study of drug abuse among miners. No one here seems to object to drug testing for professional baseball players. An entire hearing was devoted to the topic of drug use in Major League Baseball just yesterday, yet not a single hearing has been held to explore the problem of drug abuse among miners. And when our friend, the late Representative Charlie Norwood, had the courage to call for drug testing in
miners in years past, he was rebuked for daring to draw attention to this pervasive problem.
I am pleased we are finally acknowledging this problem among miners, but I want to be clear; anything short of the Republican plan for drug testing fails to fully protect miners.
Finally, our substitute recognizes some of the very specific issues brought to light with the tragic collapse of the Crandall Canyon Mine in August of 2007. To address those issues, it would improve communication between MSHA and the Bureau of Land Management, study the conditions the next generation of miners will face with deep mine conditions and retreat mining using pillar removal, and clarify how information is to be disseminated in the event of a tragedy.
I urge my colleagues to preserve bipartisan mine safety reforms by supporting the Wilson/Kline amendment.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, I thank the distinguished chairman for yielding, and I rise in opposition to this Republican substitute.
Pure and simple, the substitute kills the bill. It guts all of the bill's health and safety protections that the committee has worked so long and hard on and upon which the committee has heard expert testimony and heard testimony from our Nation's coal miners. So the fact that this legislation has been developed as it has shows that the committee has utmost in its consideration the protection of the health, safety and well-being of our Nation's coal miners.
This Republican substitute requires a one-size-fits-all mandatory drug testing program, for example, with a national blacklist of miners. It creates company dominated safety committees to stifle miners' voices; whereas, the committee bill, crafted as well as it has been, does allow for all sides to be represented in these safety committee deliberations. That is most important, because it is important that these committees have the involvement of coal miners that are on the job working, those
who know the mines and the particular features of each mine, because, as we all know, not all coal mines are structured in the same fashion.
It is worthy to note as well that all of those that work in our Nation's mines, the United Mine Workers of America, the AFL, the Food and Commercial Workers, all of our Nation's unions that are concerned with the health and safety of our coal miners, oppose this Republican substitute amendment.
So, as I conclude, I say to my colleagues, just remember, this is an effort to gut the bill, pure and simple, and we all know that this bill still has a process through which it has to travel, including the other body. And if the administration cannot see in its wisdom and compassion to sign the bill, then certainly we have a basis upon which to proceed for further safety measures in the next Congress. I would urge rejection of this Republican substitute.