CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
H.R. 6495 is expected to be considered on the House floor on Wednesday, December 8, 2010, under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced H.R. 6495 on December 3, 2010, and it was referred to the Education and Labor Committee.
Inspection and Investigation Authority: The bill would create an additional independent investigation panel for any accident that causes three or more deaths. Some members may be concerned that the bill would authorize the appropriation of “such sums as necessary” for the creation of the panels.
Pattern of Recurring Noncompliance or Accidents: A mine may be placed in a pattern status if it has a pattern of significant and substantial violations, accidents or injuries, failure to comply with safety and health standards, and withdrawal orders. For any coal or other mine that is found to be pattern status, the Secretary of Labor would be required to issue an order to withdraw all workers, issue a remediation, and increase regular inspections to eight times per year. Once a remediation order is issued, the mine operator would be directed to meet certain requirements before workers are permitted to reenter the mine. The Secretary would be authorized to life a withdrawal order if the Secretary verifies that issues in the remediation order have been addressed. The Secretary would be required to evaluate the performance of each mine in pattern status every 90 days. A mine could be removed from pattern status if it successfully reduces the rate of citations for significant and substantial violations. Coal or other mines in pattern status would be assessed fees to pay for additional inspections. The bill would authorize to be appropriated an amount equal to the total amount of fees collected.
Penalties: For mines in pattern of violation (POV) status and fail to meet performance benchmarks established by the Secretary of Labor, the bill would double the civil penalty for violations found during performance reviews. Also, the legislation would establish a civil penalty for first-time retaliation against individuals exercising their rights under the Mine act of between $10,000 and $100,000 and for subsequent retaliations within a three-year period of between $20,000 and $200,000. In addition, the bill would add criminal penalties for retaliation (a fine, imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both) and for providing advance notice of inspections (a fine, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both). Other criminal penalties in the bill include a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both, for operators convicted of violating the same mandatory health or safety regulation they previously were convicted of violating and for operators whose actions knowingly exposed miners to a significant risk of serious injury, illness, or death. If operators fail to pay civil penalty assessments within 180 days after a final order is issued, the Secretary of Labor would be required to issue an order to operators requiring them to withdraw all persons from the mines covered by the final order and prohibiting those persons from reentering until assessments are paid in full or the operators enter into payment plans with the Secretary.
Workers Rights and Protections: The bill would provide that no employee may lose their job because they file or are about to file a complaint against the employer. The legislation would attempt to protect employees against retaliation from an employer if the employee refuses to perform their job duties because that worker has a “good faith and reasonable belief” that performing duties would pose a safety threat. Any miner or representative of a miner would be authorized to file a complaint within 180 days after discharge if they believe they have been wrongly discharged, disciplined, or discriminated against. If the Secretary of Labor finds in favor of that employee, the bill would authorize the employee to be reinstated with back pay and interest and without loss of seniority. Workers would be entitled to full pay if the mine is shut down during the worker’s shift or shut down in advance of an order.
Modernizing Health and Safety Standards: The bill would require underground coal mine operators to implement a communication program at each mine to ensure each miner is briefed orally prior to travelling to or arriving at the work site. The briefing would include conditions that may be hazardous or that violate a mandatory health and safety standard. In addition, the bill would change the rock dust and methane content levels. H.R. 6495 would require the Director of National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to issue recommendations to ensure that atmospheric monitoring systems are utilized in the underground coal mining industry. Also, the bill would require the Secretary to issue regulations based on the recommendations of the Director of National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health requiring each operator to install atmospheric monitoring system. Additionally, the bill would require that each miner get at least nine hours of training at least every twelve months. Lastly, the bill would require personnel that conduct any mine training seminars to have a certification and require each mine operator to pay a fee for each person that is certified.
The bill attempts to improve coal mine safety as a result of Upper Big Branch coal mine accident in April 2010. However, the cause of the accident has not been determined yet.
Onerous Regulations: H.R. 6495 would restructure the relationship between the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and its employers that would make it much more difficult for mining companies to operate. For example, the bill would lower the threshold for which a company may be issued a citation and fall into “pattern” status that the company may not be able to get out of pattern status once the government places it in pattern status.
Penalty for Due Process: H.R. 6495 would impose prejudgment interest penalties on employers and provide no repayment mechanism if the employer prevails in the challenge.
As of press time, CBO had not released a score on H.R. 6495.