Several Kentuckians Testify Before Members Of Congress For Mine Safety

By: Jon Sonnheim Email
By: Jon Sonnheim Email

She's gone from a miner's wife to miner's advocate in less than a year.

She has been talking to state legislators and now federal lawmakers.

Melissa Lee is one of several Kentuckians testifying in front of members of congress about their experiences, and how mine safety can be improved.

We first met Melissa Lee in May of 2006, just days after her husband Jimmy Lee was one of five men killed in Harlan County's Darby Mine.

Lee told WYMT just a short time later, she would do anything she could, even taking her fight to Washington D.C. if she had to.

She wanted to make sure other husbands and other sons were protected in the mines.

Wednesday, Melissa Lee finally got that chance.

“I hate to be called a widow. I despise the word widow, but so be it, that is what I am,” Lee said.

Melissa Lee made it very clear to members of the Education and Labor Committee in Congress Wednesday exactly who she was and exactly what she stood for.

Taking a fight that started more than 10 months ago to a national stage..

I'm doing exactly what I set out to do,” Lee said.

“Right now I believe congress is ready to listen to what the miners need, and I want to be a voice that they'd hear and respond to the needs of the miner,” Scott Howard said.

Howard and Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky mine safety advocate, as well as other miners, widows, and advocates joined Lee in testifying Wednesday.

A role many of them believed was a direct result of the 47 mining related deaths in the country last year.

That caused passage of new federal legislation called the Miner Act.

“You have a process badly broke even with the miner act, and that's just not acceptable,” U.S. Representative George Miller said.

Chairman Miller says MSHA has not adequately fulfilled their obligations in policing miner's safety.

He says, answers will be coming.

So Melissa Lee and the others will keep talking to make sure changes continue to be made in the industry

After the hearing, WYMT asked Melissa Lee what happens next and she said more letters to congress and even letters to the president to keep mine safety on the forefront.

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