When Republicans take partial control of Congress next month, hope for reforms such as worker safety laws presumably will vanish. Meanwhile, a last-hour attempt to prevent coal mine deaths — a rush vote before the GOP takeover — likewise failed.
The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act was drafted in the wake of West Virginia’s Big Branch tragedy that killed 29 miners. It would toughen enforcement, for example by preventing coal corporations from endlessly appealing violation citations, thus stalling federal actions against dangerous mines.
House Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., sought to suspend House rules and pass the Byrd Act, a tactic requiring two-thirds approval. He succeeded in gaining a 214-193 majority, with 26 members not voting, but fell short of two-thirds.
Every Republican except one opposed the safety effort. Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., denounced the attempt, calling it “partisan games” to bring up the bill “in the dead of night.” She said the Byrd Act “imposes severe penalties on businesses, introduces dramatic regulatory changes and promotes unnecessary litigation.”
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., supported the bill. Lame-duck Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., soon to leave Congress, was absent.
Chairman Miller said the Byrd bill would save miners. …
Also, the Byrd Act would protect miners who report safety problems, give U.S. investigators more power to demand information after accidents, require weekend and night-shift inspections, and toughen criminal penalties for violations.
It’s a shame that Democrats couldn’t pass this lifesaving law while they still dominate Congress. We wish that party leaders would keep members in session straight through the holidays to approve many reforms while there’s still time. After Republicans take power next month, it will be too late.
— The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette