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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Advocates of tougher federal mine safety laws renewed their calls for reform Tuesday, as communities in the coalfields of West Virginia marked the one-year anniversary of the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in a generation.
In Washington, Rep. George Miller took to the House floor and delivered a speech that blasted the failure of Congress to enact legislation to give more authority to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"Is Congress just going to sit here and simply wait for the next generation, the next tragedy, the next loss of life?" said Miller, a California Democrat and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Labor and the Workforce. "Are we going to let special interests continue to paralyze this institution?"
Democratic members of West Virginia's congressional delegation also backed more safety measures, but did so in more measured speeches or statements issued by their press offices on the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, whose district includes the Raleigh County mine, said in a floor speech that there are many good coal companies that operate safe and productive mines.
"They, too, want to see those bad-actor companies that have tarnished the reputation of an important American industry reined in," Rahall said. "They do not accept a world in which they must compete against companies that would sacrifice health and lives of their own employees for competitive advantage and blatant profit."
In a White House statement, President Obama said his administration continues civil and criminal investigations that have so far prompted charges against two individuals and will push Congress to pass new safety laws.
"We owe the men and women who do this important work and the families who love them our best efforts -- not just in memory of the 29 miners who lost their lives in last year's tragedy -- but to ensure that such a tragedy doesn't happen again," the president said.Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praised West Virginia's coal miners as "the backbone of this country, providing power for the printing presses that put ink on this newsprint, the steel and machinery that built our country into the greatest industrial power in the world, the military that keeps us safe and free, and the switches that turn on the lights in homes and businesses all over this country.
"Our miners are the salt of the earth -- patriotic, God-fearing, family-oriented and proud of their hard work," Manchin said.
Manchin told fellow senators that West Virginia "has become a leader in safety" and a state where "we don't tolerate intimidation from any company that puts profits ahead of safety."