New mine safety legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats are set to announce sweeping new
mine safety legislation that would make it easier to shut down
mines with a pattern of serious safety violations.
A person familiar with discussions says House and Senate
lawmakers would outline a framework of the bill on Tuesday aimed at
preventing another disaster like the West Virginia mine explosion
that killed 29 workers in April. The person spoke on condition of
anonymity ahead of the announcement.
The bill, to be introduced in the House as early as this week,
is also expected to increase penalties for serious violations and
give greater protection to whistle-blowers who report safety
problems. Other elements of the legislation are expected to expand
pay protection for miners removed from work due to safety
violations and boost the Mine Safety and Health Administration's
subpoena power in investigations.
The Senate is expected to take up a similar measure soon.
Democratic leaders have said they want to pass the legislation
by year end to fix flaws in the system for identifying the most
dangerous mines. The Upper Big Branch mine, site of the nation's
worst mining accident in four decades, was repeatedly cited for
problems with its methane ventilation system and for allowing
combustible dust to build up in the months leading up to the blast.
Under the current system, mine companies can file lengthy legal
appeals that last months or years, delaying a finding of a pattern
of violation that could lead to stricter oversight.
The measure is also expected to address problems brought to
light last week in a report by the Labor Department's inspector
general. The report said the Mine Safety and Health Administration
between 2007 and 2009 removed 21 mines from the screening process
meant to flag those showing a "pattern of violations" because of
limited resources.
The measure would be the most comprehensive changes to mine laws
since legislation passed four years ago following the 2006 Sago
mine disaster.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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