On the average, every single working day of the year, one less miner walks out of our nation's mines at night that walked into the mines in the morning.
Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D.N.J.)
WHETHER VIEWED AS a major overhaul or as some basic tinkering, the bill on mine safety and health as passed by the Senate (78 to 18) is a needed peice of legislation. Among the world's mining nations, the United States has one of the bleakest records regarding the protection of its miners.
The Senate-passed legislation has several strengths. First, enforcement powers would be transferred from the Interior Department to the Labor Department. The former's record in such matters as assessment and collection of penalties for violation of health and safety standards has been a shameful string of failures to enforce the 1960 laws against habitual offenders. Interior's Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration has several diligent officials, but to do their work they must be free to operate within an agency that is more concerned with protecting workers than keeping high the production rates of minerals.
A second strength of the bill is that administrative law judges would be transferred to the authority of a five-member independent commission. The recent case of Judge Joseph B. Kennedy - whose reprimand by the Interior Department for fining a coal company was officially ruled improper by the Justice Department - is an example of the need for the judges to be independent.
The House is expected soon to take up similar legislation. It isn't at all certain, though, that the House is as concerned about the safety of miners as the Senate seems to be. Industry lobbyists are working to keep intact some of the old methods of enhjforcement, which means a free ride for those companies that see the safetu and health laws as bothersome. The Carter administration, which backed the Senate bill,now has the challenge of standing solidly behind the bill as efforts are made to see weaken it int he House.
Although no large mining disasters have occured in recent months, the record is filled with deaths and injuries that occur one by one and therefore tend to be overlooked as national news. But the tragedies persist. By consolidating two federal mining laws (the 1966 act that covers metal mines and the 1969 law covering coal mines), by transferring stricter standards it is reasonable to respect that the death and injury rates can be significantly lowered.