Part of the legislation unveiled Tuesday simply requires MSHA to write new pattern of violation regulations, something that MSHA chief Joe Main has already said his agency is doing.
Current law requires MSHA to put mine operators on pattern of violations status if they have "a pattern of violations of mandatory health or safety standards <t40>...<t$> which are of such nature as could have significantly or substantially contributed to the cause and effect of <t40>...<t$> health or safety hazards."
Under the proposed legislation, MSHA could write its new regulations to allow POV status for "any combination of citations, orders, accidents, injuries of illnesses."
But, the proposed bill also allows MSHA to disqualify a mine from POV status for "mitigating circumstances" that have eliminated elevated risk to mines' safety and health.
The legislation also proposes increased inspections for mines put on POV status, and would require mine operators on that status to pay fees to MSHA to fund those additional mine visits. MSHA would also be required to create a new public database of pattern of violation information.
Other provisions in the legislation would more than double civil penalties for significant violations to a maximum of $150,000 and increase maximum criminal penalties from $250,000 and one year in prison to $1 million and five years in prison.
U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, ranking Republicans on the Senate Labor Committee, criticized the Democrats for offering "a sweeping piece of legislation" that "only amplifies the adversarial role" of MSHA "without increasing safety."
Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said her group is still reviewing the legislation, but noted that MSHA "has several enforcement tools that have not been fully utilized." United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith said the union is still studying the proposal.
The legislation includes several measures added at industry's behest, including language giving mine operators a specific ability to challenge MSHA's refusal to approve company proposals for mine ventilation and roof control and providing additional training and compliance assistance for companies with repeated violations.
"We look forward to working with members on both sides of the aisle to find bipartisan support for workers," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "These policy ideals start with dialogue."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.