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Deepest Condolences to Families of West Virginia Mine Victims

06/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

(Below is Chairman Miller's prepared floor statement on the House resolution on the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion (H.Res. 1236).)

On Monday, April 5th, an explosion rocked the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, killing 29 miners and injuring others. This was the worst mine disaster in the United States in almost four decades.

For over two centuries, millions of West Virginians' livelihoods have depended on extracting the state's rich coal deposits. Coal has left an indelible mark on communities throughout West Virginia and Appalachia. For many of these communities, the mine may be the only way to earn a decent living. These miners are proud. Coal is in their blood, it is their tradition, and it is their career. But, we also know that underground mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Every day, miners show up for their shift knowing that there is a chance they may not return to their families. On a warm afternoon last Monday, the world was reminded of these dangers. At 3:30 p.m. during a shift change, a massive explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine and took the lives of 29 miners and sent others to the hospital. While the cause of this tragedy is still under investigation, today we memorialize the 29 miners who perished.

Our nation sends our deepest condolences to those who have suffered such a terrible loss. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to families who lost a husband, a father, a brother, a son, or more. Our thoughts are with you and your communities who are suffering devastating losses. These losses will remain long after the headlines fade from national attention.

Today we also recognize the valiant efforts of the many rescue teams who in many cases traveled long distances and risked their own lives in hopes of saving their fellow miners. Many rescuers had to evacuate the mine at least four times as the result of explosive levels of methane gas. These brave men and women who worked around the clock, day after day, have the appreciation of this Congress and this nation for their selfless efforts.

I would also like to recognize Congressman Nick Rahall who grew up in Beckley, West Virginia - only a few miles south of the mine. Congressman Rahall sponsored this resolution and provided a much needed rock of support for his constituents during this disaster. I know how much the families appreciate his support and efforts.

Over the last few years, I have met many families who suffered similar tragic losses from mining disasters. In the face of overwhelming tragedy, these families are showing incredible strength and determination. I made a promise to families of Sago, Aracoma Alma, Darby and Crandall Canyon that we would do everything in our power to uncover the cause of these tragedies and do everything possible to prevent other miners from suffering a similar fate. I extend this same promise to the families of the Upper Big Branch mine. They paid the ultimate price for doing a job our nation depends on.

Every miner who goes to work each day must be able to return home safely to their families at the end of their shift. And Congress has an obligation to ensure that remains the case.

Cross-posted at the EdLabor Journal.