Senate’s Proposed Budget Increase for Mine Safety Is a Start; More Needed to Address Growing Backlog of Cases

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Senate’s Proposed Budget Increase for Mine Safety Is a Start; More Needed to Address Growing Backlog of Cases

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

WASHINGTON - The Senate Appropriations Committee took a modest step Tuesday in
recognizing the unprecedented increase in mine safety cases pending
before the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission. While
recommending a $2 million increase in the commission's budget is a
start, that amount is not nearly enough to clear the current backlog of
13,000 cases, which is expected to grow to 20,000 at the end of next
year.

The Senate committee acknowledged the astounding surge in cases and
noted that the cause is due mostly to the recent, dramatic increase in
mine operators contesting citations issued by the Mine Safety &
Health Administration. Indeed, in 2006, only 7.4 percent of penalties,
or about 10,000 cases, were contested. By the end of 2008, a full 23
percent of the cases, or about 199,000 cases, were contested by mining
companies. We are also pleased that senators specifically designated
the added funding for hiring more judges and support staff in an effort
to reduce the backlog.

The mining commission is a small agency, but it plays a key role in
ensuring that mine workers around the country remain safe while doing
their jobs. This adjudicating body mostly determines penalties against
mine operators that violate safety standards and endanger miners'
lives. The penalties provide critical incentives for mine operators to
account for their miners' safety and to comply with the law, especially
the improved safety standards that Congress mandated under the 2006
Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (Miner Act). As these
cases have gone unresolved due to the tremendous backlog, mine
operators that have been cited with safety violations have been let off
the hook from paying the appropriate penalties. So, while we are
grateful that Congress has noticed the difficulties facing the mining
commission, we urge it to provide the agency with the resources needed
to fulfill its mission.

READ the letters Public Citizen sent to Congress and President Obama drawing attention to the commission's lack of resources.

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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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