Leaders of the Mine Safety and Health Administration have, for months, been warning Congress that they simply don’t have the resources to address the enormous backlog in safety citations that’s piled up largely because the industry wants to delay fines and avoid the “pattern of violations” status that could close them down.
This week, West Virginia’s Sen. Robert Byrd (D) took a long step toward fixing the problem, securing $22 million to reduce the backlog as part of a supplemental spending bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. Byrd explains the impetus:
“Last month, a horrific explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine took the lives of 29 West Virginia coal miners,” he said Thursday in a statement. “We are learning that this was a disaster that should never have happened. That mine had been cited for hundreds of safety violations — citations that were appealed and ignored, and I dare say, were scoffed and laughed at by the guilty parties.
“We must reduce the backlog of contested safety violations. Simply put, penalties must be paid, violations must be corrected, and the violators must be punished.”
Under Byrd’s proposal, $18.2 million would go to MSHA’s solicitor, and MSHA’s review commission would get the remaining $3.8 million.