CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The nation's top mine safety official on Wednesday touted an aggressive agenda of tougher new regulations and said the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration would not be deterred by the failure of reform legislation last year or by the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives.
"We will be prepared to make our case to the public, the industry and to the Congress for the reasons these [new regulations] are necessary," said Joe Main, assistant labor secretary in charge of MSHA.
MSHA plans to issue six new proposed regulations in as many months, on top of highly complex proposals that are pending to limit miners' exposure to coal dust that causes black lung and toughen standards for preventing coal-dust explosions in underground mines.
Late last year, Republicans in the House defeated mine safety legislation proposed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch disaster, and the GOP takeover is expected to make Congress more likely to scrutinize any new government regulations.
And MSHA already faces some criticism of the pace of its investigation into the explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine, including a letter from Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia urging the agency to more frequently brief the miners' families on the probe.
During a conference call meant to focus on the agency's regulatory plans, Main told reporters to expect more information on the Upper Big Branch investigation "in the next few weeks."
"It's always bad to put out timelines, but we will have a new update that is more informative," Main said. "We want to get it right and we want to take the time to do that."
Main has said several times that the strain of the Upper Big Branch probe has not forced his agency staff to lose focus on other priorities, such as MSHA's announced plan to "End Black Lung." But the agency's regulatory agenda still does not provide a timeline for finalizing what could be a landmark rule to tighten the legal limit on coal dust that causes the deadly disease.