WASHINGTON – Family members of those killed in the Sago mining tragedy listened Wednesday as members of Congress said federal officials were moving too slowly to improve mine safety.
It has been 17 grueling months since the deaths of 12 miners ripped apart the small town of Tallmansville,W.Va. Now their relatives and the House Education and Labor Committee want to know why the Mine Safety and Health Administration isn't working fast enough to improve conditions and safety in the mining industry.
They nodded as Rep. Shelly Moore Capito,R-W.Va.,said,”It is time for the Mine Safety and Health Administration to stop moving at a snail's pace and act on more regulations to protect mines.”
Many members of the House Education and Labor Committee weren't impressed by the administration's response.
“We are here today because there is an unfortunate oversight by the Congress,” Rep. Nick J. Rahall,D-W.Va.,said.
He said Congress should have acted more quickly to force MSHA to enforce new regulations,including better electrical systems in mines and more training for miners.
Debbie Hamner,whose husband worked for 28 years as a coal miner and died in the Sago mine,said,”Congress is too slow,and the Sago miners should have been able to walk out of that explosion alive.”
Richard Stickler,assistant secretary of labor and the head of MSHA, replied that “MSHA has a protocol to follow and that progress is slower on the national level.” Stickler never gave a specific timeline for when regulations would be enforced.
“MSHA will study the facts available to them from Congress and then decide,” Stickler said.
West Virginia has adopted new measures,including requiring emergency mine shelters like one that was on display at the Capitol before the hearing. The tent-like shelters have oxygen supplies and can keep out carbon dioxide for a time.
“We have approved the shelter; however,progress is moving slowly with MSHA,” Rahall said.
After the two-hour meeting,Hamner sighed and said,”Stickler still hasn't given us any straight answers. He just won't say that there were bad practices approved by his agency,practices that cost us the lives of our loved ones.”
The committee will discuss the issue again,but no date has been set.