Congress, Obama Urged to Address Mountain of Unheard Mining Safety Cases

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Congress, Obama Urged to Address Mountain of Unheard Mining Safety Cases

Thousands of Safety Violations Still Pending Because of Lack of Funding; Agency Needs New Leadership

WASHINGTON - Facing a backlog of more than 13,000 unheard safety cases, the
federal agency responsible for ruling on mine safety violations is in
urgent need of more resources and new leadership, Public Citizen said
in letters sent today to President Obama and members of Congress.

Agency officials estimate that under the Federal Mine Safety and
Health Review Commission's current funding level, the commission will
need at least five years to address its existing case backlog,
excluding any new cases that arise during that time, according to
Public Citizen's letter.

Public Citizen is calling on Congress to increase the budget of the
mine safety commission to bring it in line with other agencies that
fill similar roles. For example, the mine commission's budget is $2
million lower than that of the Occupational Safety and Health Review
Commission, despite having 6.5 times as many outstanding cases. The
public interest group also is calling for Obama to replace the current
chairman, a Bush administration holdover and a former attorney for the
mining industry's lobbying organization, who has done little to garner
additional resources for the mining commission.

"Every day that these safety violations go unresolved, the chance
that this nation will see another tragic mining accident grows," said
David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.
"Congress rightly passed stricter mining safety regulations in 2006,
but new rules and fines are useless if they are not enforced."

The pending 13,000 cases amount to a 600 percent increase since the
passage of the Miner Act three years ago, the Public Citizen letter
said. Congress passed the new law after a string of preventable
tragedies, including the infamous January 2006 Sago coal mine explosion
that trapped 13 miners below ground for two days in West Virginia. All
but one of the miners died.

Prior to the explosion, the Sago mine owner was cited for numerous
federal safety violations but continued to operate in a way that
endangered the lives of its coal miners.

The mining safety commission needs more money to hire administrative
law judges and staff to hear and decide cases, including deciding
whether to impose civil penalties against mine operators who have
violated safety standards.

To read the letters sent to Obama and Congress, go to http://www.citizen.org/congress/govtaccount/articles.cfm?ID=18739 and http://www.citizen.org/congress/govtaccount/articles.cfm?ID=18741.

To see a budget comparison of the Federal Mine Safety and Health
Review Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Review
Commission, to http://www.citizen.org/documents/FMSHRC%20Chart.pdf.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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