Senate Republicans block Dems' effort to pass mine safety bill

Senate Republicans on Tuesday shot down a Democratic effort to pass legislation strengthening safety protections for the nation's miners. 

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) rejected Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D-W.Va.) request to approve the measure unanimously, accusing the Democrats of abandoning the bipartisan negotiations that might have led to such an agreement. 

"I'm interested in [miner] safety," Enzi said. "[But] if the majority really wanted to pass a bill on this issue then they would have continued with those bipartisan negotiations."

Sponsored by Rockefeller, the Democrats' bill would hike the penalties for mine safety violations; expand whistleblower protections for workers who report hazards; empower federal investigators to close unsafe mines more easily; and grant regulators subpoena power when investigating mining accidents. 

A similar proposal was passed by the House Education and Labor Committee earlier in the year, with every Republican voting against it.

Central to the GOP objections, both chambers' bills would expand some employee protections at all workplaces nationwide, not just at mines. The Republicans say that's a job-killing provision that oversteps the authority of legislation that's supposed to target miners — an argument Rockefeller on Tuesday rejected outright.

"The mining industry is not the only industry where significant improvements to workplace safety are necessary," he said. 

The mine safety push is a direct response to April's explosion at the Upper Big Branch in southern West Virginia, which killed 29 miners and maimed a 30th. The cause of that blast remains under investigation by federal and state authorities.