Monday, February 07, 2011

End Around

A New York Times editorial brings some good news this morning. Because Congress won't do its job, the Obama administration is going to do the job for the cowards on the Hill when it comes to mine safety.

Congress vowed to change things after the Upper Big Branch explosion, and then gave in, again, to Big Coal. The executive proposals would make it much harder for mine owners to game the violations process with extended appeals that let them keep operating and risking miners’ lives. A 34-year-old law providing for mine shutdowns has never been applied in the category of the worst offenders — a blight on industry and political appointees who shirked their oversight responsibilities.

Under the new regulations, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would be empowered to shut down a mine with a record of chronic safety violations — instead of waiting years for litigation to play out. Massey’s record was horrendous, and it was allowed to keep working dangerous mines like Upper Big Branch.

It's been ten months since 29 miners died at the Upper Big Branch mine owned by Massey Energy. Congress has done nothing to change the way mining companies do business when it comes to safety in their mines. Mining companies cited for violations continue in "business as usual" mode because they are allowed to do so via the lengthy and outmoded appeals process currently in place.

Giving the Mining Safety and Health Administration the regulatory power to shut down mines with horrific safety records is the right step to take. When it is more expensive to operate unsafely than safely, mining companies might get the message. This is one area where regulating business is necessary. That's the kind of real regulatory reform the country needs.



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