The leading Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce says the federal government doesn’t have enough tools to keep coal miners safe. California Congressman George Miller sent a letter to three Kentucky coal mine operators last month, asking them to set up a plan to pay the more than $1.5 million in fines all three owe for mine safety violations. An attorney for the men responded, telling Congress the mine operators wouldn’t be able to pay the fines anytime soon—or ever.
And there’s not much the federal government can do about that. Miller says that’s a problem. If the government can’t make companies pay their fines, there’s no incentive for mine operators to follow the law and protect coal miners’ health.
He says it’s especially disturbing that operators who already have spotty records and owe money can open up new operations.
“Well the first thing is, I don’t know why you would let a person that’s been heavily fined, owes a huge amount of money for the operation of an unsafe mine, why you’d let them open up another mining operation,” Miller said. “Where in the world do you get to do that? You don’t get to open up one restaurant where you’re under penalties for operating an unsafe restaurant or an unhealthy restaurant or an unclean restaurant. Where do you get to do this in business?”
Passing new mine safety laws is necessary, he says, but unless the government can collect mine safety fines, there’s no incentive for operators to follow the law.
“I think it’s clear that the federal government needs additional tools to get the money that’s owed and to impose the penalties that should be imposed for the lack of safe operation.”
Two of the mine operators Miller wrote to still owe money for the fatal 2006 accident at the Kentucky Darby Mine in Harlan County.
Miller says the federal government needs to act, but the Republican majority in the House has ignored efforts to tighten regulations on coal mine operators.