Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said she is working on her own bill, and is concerned Miller's measure would increase mine operator appeals of enforcement actions, worsening a backlog at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
Other Republican lawmakers objected to language in the bill that broadens its impact beyond mining to other industries regulated by a sister agency, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"The bill before us today is a missed opportunity to learn the lessons from Upper Big Branch and a clumsy attempt to drive up workplace litigation in the name of safety," said ranking Republican John Kline of Minnesota.
OSHA chief David Michaels responded that 14 workers die on the job every day in the United States while "every day we encounter employers who put profits above the safety of their workers, children who have lost parents, or parents who have lost children from workplace injuries.
"Workers are fired for voicing safety and health concerns, companies subject workers to known hazards while the courts spend years deciding contested citations, and our nation's workforce protection agencies are plagued with outdated laws, tools, and penalties that make it difficult to deter safety and health violations," Michaels said.
The heart of the legislation adds to the federal mine safety law a much more detailed process for "pattern of violation," or POV, enforcement, which puts operators in line for tougher sanctions.
Current law requires MSHA to put mine operators on pattern of violation status if they have a "pattern of violations of mandatory health and safety standards ... which are of such nature as could have significantly or substantially contributed to the cause and effect of ... 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 or illnesses." But the proposed bill also allows MSHA to disqualify a mine from POV status for "mitigating circumstances" that have eliminated elevated risk to miners' safety and health.
"This legislation takes a comprehensive approach to improving mine safety by making it far more difficult for rogue operators to evade the law and their responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their employees," said United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.