By Mike Lillis
A House proposal to bolster safety protections for miners will save the government hundreds of millions of dollars, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated this week.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, would hike financial penalties for mine-safety violations, leading to $200 million in increased revenues during the next decade, CBO reported Monday in a preliminary analysis.
CBO is still crunching the effects on discretionary spending, which supporters of the bill said will be insignificant.
Miller's proposal would also enhance whistleblower protections for miners, empower federal inspectors to close problem mines more easily and force mine operators to continue paying workers when projects are shuttered due to safety problems. Taken together, the reforms are designed to rein in mine operators with a history of putting coal production over worker safety.
The bill is a direct response to a West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 workers in April. Workers at the mine have accused the owner, Virginia-based Massey Energy, of ignoring safety rules in order to harvest coal more efficiently.
Last week, Massey CEO Don Blankenship urged Congress to resist legislating a response to the tragedy.
"We need to let businesses function as businesses," Blankenship said Thursday at the National Press Club. "Corporate business is what built America, in my opinion, and we need to let it thrive by, in a sense, leaving it alone."
A day earlier, Miller's labor panel had voted to send the proposal to the House floor, though Democratic leaders have yet to announce plans to take it up.
Meanwhile, Democratic labor leaders in the Senate haven't introduced their version of the bill. Instead, they're hoping that talks with GOP leaders will yield the bipartisan support Democrats will need to push the bill through the upper chamber.