Mine Safety Enforcement, Reporting, and Training Act

Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Mine Safety Enforcement, Reporting, and Training Act. This bill will raise the minimum fine for safety violations from $60 to $500, require coal mine operators to pay fines up front, require a public yearly report of fine payments, and double funding for education and training grants to States from $10 million to $20 million.

The recent tragic events in West Virginia and Kentucky have captured the Nation's attention and exposed the serious dangers our miners face every day. Safety violations often result in injuries that cost miners their health, livelihood or lives. Safety inspectors have advised me that the fines need to be tougher when a company violates our safety  laws and that we need to put more resources into training inspectors.

The vast majority of fines issued in 2005 were under $100. Unfortunately, many multimillion dollar mining companies view these fines no worse than a minor speeding ticket. Hopefully, raising the minimum fine from $60 to $500 will prompt these companies to get serious about making safety improvements.

Many coal operators are taking advantage of the current system which allows them to withhold payment of fines levied against them while negotiating to reduce the amount of those fines. From 2001 to 2003, more than two-thirds of all major fines were reduced from the original amount imposed by safety inspectors from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA reports that of the fines that are appealed, the average reduction is 47 percent.

Moreover, since 2001, almost half of all fines have not been collected. Federal records also show that in the last two years the federal mine safety agency has failed to hand over any delinquent cases to the Treasury Department for further collection efforts, as is supposed to occur after 180 days. I believe that a public report card of fine payments gives us the chance to grade these companies and make necessary changes before we have another tragic accident on our hands.

Over the years, funding for education and training grants has steadily declined--seriously impacting the agency's ability to meet the training needs of individual States. Nationally, MSHA awards up to $10 million in grants annually, and like many other states, my home state of Illinois has witnessed a reduction in grants in the past ten years, which is especially troublesome during a time of revived coal mining activity. State regulating agencies, such as the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals, uses the funds it receives from MSHA to purchase safety vehicles, rescue training equipment and to help train new coal mine employees. Not only are state mine agencies unable to purchase new equipment as old equipment wears out, but state agencies are having trouble purchasing modern mine rescue training equipment.

I hope that my colleagues will join me in this effort to increase enforcement efforts, public reporting of violations, and education and training grants for the benefit of our coal miners across the country. Our coal miners deserve no less.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.