A Bill to Save Lives and Cut the Deficit? Mining's Lawmakers Say No.

The House of Representatives this week failed to pass legislation aimed at improving working conditions for miners. The bill was crafted partly in response to an April explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The blast killed 29 miners – the worst coal mine disaster in the U.S. in 40 years.

The bill, the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010, doesn’t call for anything radical. It would require mines to take extra steps to prevent explosions. It would raise penalties “for mine operators who knowingly tamper with or disable safety equipment that could kill miners.” It would protect miners who report unsafe working conditions. And it would try to fix the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s broken Pattern of Violations (POV) program. Currently, the agency faces too many obstacles when attempting to place repeat violators on its POV list – a move that triggers greater oversight.

And oh yeah, the bill would reduce the deficit. “The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the bill will save taxpayers $115 million over the next decade,” according to The Hill.

$11.5 million a year is small change by the federal government’s standards; but deficit hawkery is en vogue, and if bills that raise the deficit by minute fractions are castigated, why not hail a bill that lowers it? At the very least, the budget office’s score does nothing to detract from the bill.

None of the bill’s virtues matter to the 166 Republicans and 27 Democrats who voted “nay.” (213 Dems and one Republican voted for the bill; however, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass under suspension of House rules.) Many of them are bought and paid for by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Mining Association, the two lobbying groups leading the charge against increased regulation of the mining industry. According to MapLight.org, members who voted against the bill received, on average, four times as much in campaign contributions as members voting for - $2,362 per member compared to $589.

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