WASHINGTON The Bush administration does not support a major, mining reform bill set to go to the House floor today as Congress comes back to start the second session of the 110th Congress.
Although U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced the bill before the August 2007 accident at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Emery County, that trapped six miners and killed three rescuers, Miller and the bill's supporters said the tragedy proved that the industry needs more safety improvements.
The Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, known as the S-MINER bill, follows on reforms passed in 2006.
The House Education and Labor Committee, of which Miller is chairman, passed the bill in November. The bill creates an ombudsman position at the Mine Safety and Health Administration for miners and families to have an "expert, independent, confidential outlet for reporting safety concerns," Miller has said.
The bill also creates a full-time position for someone to handle communications with the media and families after an accident, among other technical provisions.
But in a "Statement of Administration Policy" released by the White House, the administration said Bush's senior aides would recommend he veto the bill because "it would place in jeopardy meaningful achievements and efforts currently under way" as part of the 2006 Miner Act and other provisions passed in the spending bill late last year.
Miller said the administration's "total failure to work aggressively to keep miners safe on the job" has forced Congress to work on additional improvements.
"The administration has weakened or rolled back a number of existing mine safety regulations," Miller said. "And now, the White House is offering a series of completely baseless excuses to explain its decision to threaten a veto of this urgently needed legislation. President Bush should stop playing politics with people's lives and work with Congress to enact mine safety reforms that were left unaddressed by the Miner Act of 2006."
The White House took issue with proposed new regulations on mine seals, pointing to a new Emergency Temporary Standard on mine seals that was issued in May 2007 and a final regulation that will be issued next month.
The White House also said the pending bill could weaken current regulations by requiring a mine operator to contact MSHA within 15 minutes of a serious accident by creating a two-tiered notification system of 15 minutes or one hour depending on the severity of the incident.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who sits on the committee, voted against the bill, saying the 2006 law has not had a chance to be fully implemented, so it is too early to pass additional provisions.
But family members of those trapped and killed in the Crandall Canyon mine sent a letter to Miller on Monday thanking him for the bill and urging other members to support it."We asked for change to assure that our government, through MSHA, is really enforcing safety in the mining industry and not turning a blind eye to dangerous mining practices ... ," the family members wrote. "The bill will also improve the way families are treated after a disaster occurs. No family dealing with a mine disaster should be treated poorly, like we feel we were."