The U.S. House of Representatives debated today the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (S-MINER, H.R. 2768) which would require, among other things, closer review of retreat mining plans, allow independent investigations (outside of MSHA) for multiple fatalities, and update permissible exposure limits. The White House issued a veto threat, saying the bill would “place in jeopardy meaningful achievements and efforts currently underway”…”weaken several existing regulations” and “impose burdensome and unrealistic time requirements.” Likewise, the National Mining Association said the bill “would interfere with mine safety progress.” In contrast, families from Kentucky and Utah, who lost loved ones in mining disasters, sent letters of support for the bill (here and here).
To address substance abuse among mine workers, Members took two different approaches. Some Republican members introduced an alternative bill (copy not yet available) which they say would improve mine safety through drug testing, a blacklist of miners who test positive, and by:
“empowering miners by allowing them to participate more fully in safety committees.”
I haven’t seen the text of this substitute bill (the Wilson amendment), but I suspect this “empowering miners” provision is simply an effort to resurrect the TEAM Act which would have allowed company-dominated employee-management committees. When the votes were added up, the Wilson amendment was rejected.
Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), whose constituents include many coal miners and their families, also spoke about substance abuse problems in mining communities. He correctly noted, however, that abuse of painkillers by former and current coal miners is intrinsically linked to injuries suffered on the job. He offered an amendment to provide $10 million in grants for mental health services in coal mining communities to help miners deal with chronic pain and painkiller abuse. This Boucher amendment passed 364-53.
Procedural motions and votes on mine safety continued into the afternoon, but when all was said and done, an amended bill to improve safety and health protections for mine workers passed 214-199. The next step will be passing of a comparable bill in the Senate.