Obama: Gov’t and Industry Must Do More to Protect Miners
President Obama this afternoon spoke briefly from the Rose Garden about the tragedy that continues to unfold in Raleigh County, W.Va., where 25 miners were killed in an explosion Monday, and rescue workers are fighting toxic gases and fire while searching for four others still unaccounted for.
The incident, Obama said, is ready indication that “more needs to be done” to ensure the safety of the nation’s coal miners. From his prepared remarks:
It’s a profession that’s not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know that. But their government and their employers know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day.
When I was in the Senate, I supported the efforts of Senators Byrd and Rockefeller to try and improve mine safety, but it’s clear that more needs to be done. And that’s why I’ve asked my Secretary of Labor as well as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration to give me a preliminary report next week on what went wrong and why it went wrong so badly, so that we can take the steps necessary to prevent such accidents in the future.
In 2006, Congress passed mining legislation that was sold as the most significant reforms in 30 years. Yet a number of Democrats — including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) — rejected the bill. They said it didn’t have any teeth.
Two years later, the House passed a bill designed to strengthen the 2006 law. Sponsored by Miller, that proposal would have hiked penalties for safety violations, empowered officials to more easily close troublesome mines and given mining officials subpoena power to investigate violations. It also would have “strengthen[ed] standards to contain explosions and fires inside mines,” according to Miller’s summary of the proposal.
Obama was a sponsor of the Senate version of that bill, but it didn’t get very far, due largely to the veto threat posed by President Bush, who said the additional safeguards would cripple the coal industry.