In a floor speech on November 2, 2011, Representative George Miller (D-CA), a leading advocate of new and tougher mine safety legislation, argued to Congress that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act should be changed to allow mine safety violations to be prosecuted as felonies. He referred to a recent 90-page report of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) charging that top management actions with respect to the Upper Big Branch Mine were directly responsible for the explosion that killed 29 coal miners. The union contends that upper management was guilty of disregarding known violations in favor of maximum coal production. The UMWA’s report is entitled: Industrial Homicide: Report on the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.
The series of coal mine disasters that began in 2006, continuing through the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in 2010, have precipitated multiple changes in laws and regulations. Not least among these are those brought about by the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, MSHA’s new civil penalty regulations that have elevated penalties to six times what they were prior to these serious accidents, and MSHA’s increasing focus on pattern of violations enforcement. Metal and nonmetal mines, far more numerous than coal mines, have been subjected to the same legal provisions, impact inspections and elevated enforcement because of these changes. Many in the mining industry have argued that there is no justification for all mines to be subjected to elevated enforcement mechanisms or procedures developed to deter violations that could cause coal mine disasters.