By Julian Pecquet - 06/02/11 02:45 PM EDT
The top Democrat on the Education and Workforce panel said repeatedly Thursday that "Congress has been warned" that inadequate federal regulations are partly to blame for the death of 29 miners in a West Virginia mine last year.
"These disasters are preventable," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said on the House floor. "We should not - we must not - wait for another tragedy before Congress owns up to its responsibility."
Miller's speech comes after an independent panel of experts appointed by the governor of West Virginia blamed mine owner Massey Energy for safety failures at the Upper Big Branch mine. The report also recommended giving state and federal inspectors more enforcement powers.
"The state investigation is also a call to action," Miller said. "The panel urges Congress to enact reforms to modernize mine safety technology, to give regulators better tools, strengthen criminal provisions, and to improve the rights of miners."
Miller and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation that seeks to improve compliance with mine safety and health laws while protecting whistle-blowers in the industry.