April 29, 2015

Focus on Improved Safety in Coal Mines | The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

Laws put in place to protect coal miners do little good without full enforcement. In fact, despite progress - and an ever-growing list of regulations, more than 500 miners have been killed over the past decades. And, according to a fact sheet that accompanied legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., "Tools the Mine Safety and Health Administration could use to hold rogue mine operators like (Massey Energy Co.) accountable were ineffective."

Building on the long and effective legacy of Manchin's predecessor in office, the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2015 aims to increase penalties for repeat and serious offenders, update safety standards, and protect miners who feel compelled to raise the alarm on poor or unsafe working conditions.

While the federal government has been obsessed with the Obama administration's war on coal and affordable electricity, surely members of Congress will understand the need for improved protection for the coal miners who not only shore up such a large portion of West Virginia's, Ohio's and Pennsylvania's economies, but also keep the lights on for much of the rest of the country.

Many mine owners complain MSHA inspectors are too eager to hand out citations for technical violations that have little if anything to do with keeping miners safe. Obviously, that attitude, where present, should be discouraged - because, if anything, it may be a distraction from enforcing truly important rules.

"For many West Virginia families, mining is a way of life and has been an important part of our state's culture and livelihood for decades," Manchin said. "That is why it is critical to continue to improve safety standards so that our miners' lives are never in jeopardy."

"Never" may be a bit optimistic. But at least lawmakers can say yes to a protection act that will move miners a little closer to the level of safety they deserve.

By:  Editorial