Although the death toll in the nation's coal mines rose steeply last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration may face the loss of up to 50 inspectors because of budget cuts, Knight-Ridder Newspapers reported.
As of last week, the MSHA had been told it must absorb a 10 to 15 percent budget cut, according to White House and Labor Department officials.
The annual federal mine-safety budget has remained relatively unchanged, at about $150 million during recent years. A 10 percent budget cut would leave the agency with about $136 million, while a 15 percent cut would mean a budget of about $128 million for fiscal 1986.
David A. Zegeer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety, told Knight-Ridder that his agency's budget has not been decided, but he pledged that no cuts would affect safety in the coal fields.
But Joe Main, administrator of mine safety and health for the United Mine Workers union, said it is "incredible" that the administration would propose cuts in the MSHA budget.
"I can't believe that the government is thinking about cutting even one mine inspector off its payroll," Main said. "The record in 1984 leaves little question that there is a drastic need to increase the number of coal-mine inspectors."
According to MSHA records, 124 people died in the nation's coal mines in 1984, compared with 70 in 1983. Kentucky led with 34 fatalities. The state's death toll in 1983 was 12, a record low.
Wayne Veneman, an MSHA spokesman, said the agency has lost 27 inspectors since September 1983. As of September 1984, he said, MSHA had 849 coal-mine inspectors. The agency employs 2,954 people.