See Thursday's Gazette story here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House Republicans pressed federal mine safety chief Joe Main for answers Thursday about a series of audits that revealed missed inspections and inadequate enforcement by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
GOP members of an Education and Workforce subcommittee jumped on the audits, pointing to them in arguing against passage of new mine safety legislation in response to last April's Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.
"It's pretty damning, when you look at it," Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., told Main, pointing to a Charleston Gazette story that first published the audit results.
"You've mentioned that MSHA was using every tool at your disposal, and you've asked here now for more legislation to give you more tools," Kline said. "Yet it seems looking at this story the failure is not at having the right tools in the toolbox, but in the people using all the tools in the toolbox."
Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walbert, R-Minn., added, "If there is one thing we know, it is the strongest law on the books cannot protect miners if the agency charged with enforcing those laws fails to do so."
Main conceded that a summary of MSHA Office of Accountability Audits conducted in 2008 and 2009 revealed "systemic problems" similar to those documented in numerous previous MSHA internal reviews, Inspector General reports and U.S. Government Accountability Office audits going back more than 20 years.
"I think these problems existed and we have to put in place measures to train these problems out," Main told lawmakers. "Hopefully, as we look down the road, the kind of systemic problems that we've seen, we don't find them."
The MSHA summary report, quietly provided to Congress just two weeks before the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, did not specify which MSHA field offices were audited and MSHA has so far declined to make public the office-specific results.
In a news briefing after the committee hearing, Main would not commit to releasing those more-detailed audits or to making public additional audits conducted by MSHA's accountability office lasts year.
"We'd have to go back and even figure out what audits are even involved here," Main said. "There's some time involved here."
Questions from Kline and other Republicans overshadowed the efforts of House Democrats to use Thursday's committee hearing to promote mine safety legislation they failed to get through Congress last year.