Mine Safety Administrator Defends Implementation Of Mine Law

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than a year after the Sago mine explosion
that killed 12 miners, protections for miners potentially trapped
underground in a similar incident have not yet been implemented,
the United Mine Workers president said Wednesday.

UMW President Cecil Roberts testified during a Senate
Appropriations subcommittee hearing in which senators questioned
Richard Stickler, head of the nation's mine safety agency, about
the speed at which mining reforms enacted last year have been put
into place.

Forty-seven miners died last year in the United States - the
highest toll since 1995. Following the deaths at Sago in West
Virginia early 2006, along with a string of other deaths, Congress
passed the first major overhaul of mine safety laws in three
decades.

The new law requires miners to have two hours' worth of oxygen
on hand while they work, rather than one. Mine operators also must
store additional oxygen supplies underground and must put new
communications equipment and devices to track lost miners in mines
within three years.

Stickler, who has lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration
for four months, acknowledged that not all aspects of the law had
been met, but he said the agency is working to comply under the
timelines set in the law.

"Every single person at MSHA remains focused on our core
mission, to improve the safety and health of America's miners and
to work toward the day when every miner goes home safe and healthy
to family and friends," Stickler said.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he wasn't satisfied with
Stickler's answers. He noted that a report released Tuesday by the
House Committee on Education and Labor said that while Stickler's
agency is making progress, "it is moving too slowly."

"Any one of these many factors could cause another mine
disaster with many deaths," Specter said.

Bruce Watzman, vice president of the National Mining
Association, said the industry is moving forward. He said a survey
representing about 65 percent of underground coal production found
that about $159 million has been spent so far on upgrades in
communications and safety equipment to comply with the law.

Roberts said there has been no improvement in the quality of
mine rescue teams. He spelled out other potential problems, such as
the fact that nonflammable belts are not required. He also
expressed displeasure that there's been a monthslong backlog in the
production of self-sustaining rescue devices.

The UMW leader said miners aren't safer today than they were a
year ago.

"The truth of the matter is we'd have the same types of
problems if this occurred tomorrow morning," Roberts said.

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On the Net:
Mine Safety and Health Administration: http://www.msha.gov/
National Mining Association: http://www.nma.org/
United Mine Workers: http://www.umwa.org/

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved


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