Scott Statement on 8th Anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion

WASHINGTON Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03) issued the following statement on the eighth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, which took the lives of 29 coal miners.

“Since the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) explosion that took the lives of 29 coal miners eight years ago, all five independent investigation reports by state and federal agencies agree that the mine operator violated multiple safety standards.  Key safety controls, such as water sprays, were disabled which enabled a small fire to be sparked that led to a devastating disaster. Inadequate rock dusting enabled the fire to propagate into a massive coal dust explosion.

“In the 15 months prior to the explosion, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued over 600 citations, and ordered the UBB mine closed, in whole or in part, over 50 times due to unsafe conditions.  Despite a pervasive pattern of violations, the Massey-operated mine gamed the system and evaded the most severe sanctions.  The UBB mine had even set up elaborate advance notice schemes to forewarn mine foremen before the arrival of mine inspectors.

“Coal miners, mine safety regulators and the UBB families have asked Congress to address long, overdue reforms to the nations’ mine safety laws.  These reforms would ensure that all miners are able to return home safely to their families at the end of their shift.  The reforms include replacing the weak misdemeanor criminal sanctions in the Mine Act with strong felony penalties for those operators who knowingly violate mandatory health or safety standards and recklessly expose miners to a significant risk of serious injury, serious illness, or death.  That is why it is imperative for Congress to enact the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2017.  This tragedy will be in vain if Congress does not close the glaring loopholes that have allowed a small minority of mine operators to put profit ahead of their miners’ safety.”

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