House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.



Floor Statement

January 16, 2008

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

McKeon Statement on S-MINER Act (H.R. 2768)

Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of mine safety and in opposition to this bill. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The men and women who work in and around our nation’s mines are often unrecognized for the integral role they play in powering our country.  These individuals work hard, in difficult and often dangerous conditions, to unearth the raw materials that each of us relies upon in our day-to-day lives.

While mining is inherently dangerous, there are steps we can take to mitigate that risk.  For that reason, mine safety has been an ongoing priority, both legislatively and within the context of oversight.

Although our commitment to mine safety is constant, we also recognize that new mandates from Washington translate into major changes within the operation of our nation’s mines.  For that reason, we do not, and we must not, take a piecemeal approach to mine reform.  Rather, we should develop thoughtful, comprehensive, consensus reforms and then give those reforms a chance to work.

I’m pleased to say that we did just that less than two years ago.  In 2006 Congress passed the MINER Act, which required MSHA to revise its penalties, increase penalties for major violations, undertake several studies regarding mining practices, and work to improve the technology for communications underground.

The MINER Act received strong, bipartisan support.  It was backed by both industry and labor, and its reforms were understood to be the most significant in a generation.

With the MINER Act, we called on the mining industry to overhaul itself, to develop and implement new technologies, and to comply with strong new protections that were to be developed by the experts.  This type of transformation cannot take place overnight, but let there be no doubt about it, change is well underway.

Mr. Chairman, I fear that with this bill before us, we run a very real risk of derailing that progress and returning to square one on many critical mine safety issues.

H.R. 2768 ignores the safety guidelines being developed through expert research and review, and replaces them with arbitrary new mandates established by Congress.  The bill makes an end run around the regulatory process, shutting stakeholders out.

Simply put, the S-MINER Act abandons the mine safety momentum of the MINER Act and sends us back to the drawing board.

I appreciate Chairman Miller’s concern about the dangers faced by our nation’s miners, and I share his desire to see strong reforms in place that will promote safety.  That’s why Republicans will offer a substitute amendment that would accomplish exactly that.

The Wilson/Kline amendment will balance successful implementation of the 2006 MINER Act with a number of mine safety enhancements.  I look forward to supporting that amendment when it is offered because it provides a real opportunity to promote mine safety without backing away from the progress that has been made.

In addition to the Republican substitute we will consider a number of other amendments today, including one to be offered by Chairman Miller.  I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out the rather transparent political expediency of one portion of that amendment.

Included in the Republican substitute is a proposal to implement mandatory drug testing within the mining industry.  A similar proposal was offered by the late Charlie Norwood, our colleague from Georgia who was a stalwart on this issue.

The ravaging impact of drug abuse among miners came into sharp focus this past weekend when the front page of the Washington Post carried the story of miners who struggle with addiction to pain killers.  We believe that mandatory drug testing is the most effective, and indeed the only way to immediately address the prevalence of drug abuse that is putting miners’ lives at risk.

Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, however, appear to have discovered the devastation of drug abuse among miners only late yesterday afternoon.  At that time, several hours after the deadline for submitting amendments, the Chairman was permitted to resubmit a revised version of his Manager’s package that included a hastily drafted study of drug abuse among miners.  While this amendment may offer a fig leaf now that the issue of drug abuse can no longer be ignored, it should not be mistaken for a legitimate attempt to deter drug abuse in the way that testing would.

Mr. Chairman, the S-MINER Act is fundamentally flawed.  It brings the progress of the 2006 MINER Act to a jarring halt, creating instead a package of new, prescriptive mandates from Washington.  The bill imposes $1 billion in unfunded mandates on the mining community, placing the jobs of miners in jeopardy.  This bill is the wrong answer at the wrong time for our nation’s miners.  There is a better way.  Thank you Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.