For the fourth time, the House and Senate have reintroduced legislation to amend the Mine Act in response to the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010. On April 24, West Virginia Senators Jay Rockefeller (D) and Joe Manchin (D), along with Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), reintroduced S. 805, the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety & Health Act of 2013. The legislation would give whistleblowers more protection, increase penalties for violations knowingly committed, prohibit mine operators from keeping separate books and improve federal and state coordination on safety efforts.
In March, in the House, Rep. George Miller (D) and Nick Rahall (D), along with 16 Democratic colleagues, introduced similar legislation, H.R. 1373, the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2013. The House legislation would require mine operators to maintain records of rock dust purchases so the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) would be able to verify efforts made by operators to prevent the build-up of explosive coal dust.
Protections are expanded for whistleblowers reporting safety violations to MSHA.
The bill also requires MSHA to develop a "staffing succession plan to ensure that MSHA retains sufficient numbers of trained personnel to help keep miners safe." The new legislation also would allow immediate family members of victims of every mine disaster to name a representative to participate in government investigations of those disasters.