From Talking Points Memo:
The GOP members of the House Education and Labor committee, led by Rep. John Kline, last week put out a press release that slammed the "enforcement failures" of the Mine Safety and Health Administration,...
Because it happens that in February, the Education and Labor committee held a hearing "to assess whether a backlog of mine safety enforcement actions are adversely impacting [MSHA's] ability to protect miners' safety and prevent future tragedies." And of the committee's 19 Republicans, just one bothered to show up,...
By the way the one who showed up was not John Kline, but newly minted Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn Thompson, whom was tongue-in-cheek called "senior Republican on the committee this morning" by committee Chairman Rep. George Miller (D-CA).
Of course the reason the Republicans weren't there is because they didn't want to hear how Bush gutted the MSHA:
Under the Bush appointee Dave Lauriski, a former mining executive, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has stressed cooperating with mine operators over policing them. During his tenure, he filled the agency’s top jobs with former industry colleagues, dropped more than a dozen safety proposals initiated during the Clinton administration, and cut almost 200 of the agency’s 1,200 coal mine inspectors....
...After the deadly explosions at the Jim Walter mine in September 2001, Lauriski echoed his boss, Labor Secretary Chao, in publicly assuring the dead miners’ families that he would try "to prevent this type of accident from ever happening again." But soon afterward, he ordered work stopped on more than a dozen new mine-safety regulations proposed by the Clinton administration. Some of these would have improved ventilation in underground mines, others would have deepened investigations of mining accidents, and still others would have required inflammable conveyor belts and more extensive training for miners. The proposed regulations were dropped, MSHA said, because of "resource constraints, and changing safety and health regulatory priorities."
In speeches to mining-industry groups over the next few months, Lauriski further explained his thinking. He told the Georgia Mining Association that the agency had taken on too much under McAteer and needed to focus on just a few important items. He told the National Mining Association that MSHA would "collaborate more with stakeholders on regulatory initiatives" and become "less confrontational" with mine operators, in an effort to provide companies with better "compliance assistance." At a meeting with mine operators in Hindman, Kentucky, he boasted about his diminutive regulatory agenda. "If you’ve seen it," he said, "you noticed that it is quite a bit shorter than some past agendas. And if you haven’t seen it, all I can say is, trust me, it’s significantly shorter."
In interviews, Lauriski noted that coal mining deaths nationwide had decreased dramatically, from hundreds every year to fewer than fifty. Further progress would come not from more inspections and fines, he explained, but from helping mine operators accept more responsibility for worker training and from teaching them how safer mines could be more profitable than dangerous ones. Jack Gerard, then the president of the National Mining Association, called Lauriski’s agenda "a bold and innovative approach to further advance miner safety and health." That view was soon put to the test.
In the first two months of 2002, fifteen miners of coal and other minerals died in workplace accidents, three times the usual number of deaths for any two-month period. On July 24, miners near Somerset, Pennsylvania, accidentally drilled into a flooded abandoned mine next to where they were working. Millions of gallons of water spilled through the hole, trapping nine of the miners for three days. As the nation watched on television, Lauriski helped direct a dramatic rescue of all nine miners—and became a national hero.
But his luck did not hold. In January 2003, three workers at a CONSOL Energy mine in northern West Virginia failed to check properly for methane before lighting a cutting torch. The ensuing explosion killed all three. Investigators later determined that MSHA inspectors should have instructed the workers on proper procedures but had not inspected the mine because, according to one agency official, staff cuts had left no inspectors available. Six months later, one miner was killed and another seriously injured in an explosion at Cody Mining in Floyd County, Kentucky. Lauriski himself said that "unexcused deficiencies" by agency inspectors had played a role in the accident.
A week after the 2004 presidential election, Lauriski announced that he was leaving MSHA. He cited "personal circumstances" and said he was moving back west to "devote more time to my family." Over the next ten months, Bush left the agency in the hands of the acting head, David Dye, a former congressional staffer with no experience in the mine-safety field.
It’s true that mining deaths—and the death rate per ton of coal mined—dropped during the Lauriski regime. But that’s in large part because most coal is now produced through surface mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Surface mines are generally much safer than underground operations. In addition, thanks to the growing use of underground mining machines over the past decade, the number of miners working underground—where the great majority of fatal accidents occur—dropped from 57,000 in 1996 to 49,000 today.
A broader look at the evidence suggests that underground coal mining has become substantially more dangerous in recent years. Over the past decade, the death rate per 10,000 miners in West Virginia, where a high proportion of miners continue to work underground, actually increased, from about 1.2 in 1997 to 3 in 2004, according to the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. From 1999 to 2004, West Virginia
and Kentucky—where, again, mining is done belowground—accounted for about a quarter of the nation’s coal production but more than half of its mining deaths.
In addition, MSHA under Bush excludes certain types of deaths that previous administrations included. For example, MSHA did not count the death of an on-duty security guard who crashed his truck on a mining road owned by his employer. And many agency employees say current mine inspectors who also worked in the Clinton administration continue to enforce safety rules strictly, despite today’s more lax standards. "Things
do not change overnight," said Lee Ratliff, a recently retired MSHA district manager, "for the good or for the worse. But I think it will get worse."
I suggest reading the above link for the details on how it was Republicans and the Bush White House endangered lives and created the current environment of lax compliance.
So for the House GOP members to call out the MSHA while both helping to gut it in the 2000's and then not even attending meetings to address its shortfalls is incredibly disingenuous and dishonest.
But then again this is the GOP, so this hypocrisy almost isn't even diary-worthy.