The Labor Department Should Stop Making Excuses About Mine Safety

10/04/2007 09:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When nine miners died as a result of the August 6 collapse at the Crandall Canyon Mine and during the ensuing rescue operation, the first thought a lot of people had was: Not again.

In 2006, 47 coal miners died in the nation's coal mines, starting with the 12 miners who died at the Sago mine in West Virginia, and people were right to wonder if this seemingly endless string of tragedies would ever come to a stop.

A common feature of many of these tragedies -- including the one at Crandall Canyon -- is that they were likely preventable. (I have a lot of questions about what happened at Crandall Canyon, and my Congressional committee has begun an investigation into the disaster. But the U.S. Labor Department has refused to fully comply with our request for the information we need to conduct that investigation, forcing us to issue a subpoena last week).

Preventable tragedies could continue to happen if we don't improve safety in the nation's mines, and Congress has a role to play in that effort. Right away, however, it's critical for the Department of Labor to stop putting the interests of coal mining executives ahead of the safety of the nation's miners. The Department has got to start aggressively implementing and enforcing the laws on the books.

Yesterday, my committee heard testimony from family members of miners who died at Crandall. Sheila Phillips, one of the witnesses at the hearing, lost her son Brandon in the Crandall disaster. She testified while her 5-year-old grandson, Gage, sat on her lap. "It is hard to have hope, only to have your heart broke," she said. "It is hard to see your grandson left fatherless."

I've seen this anguish from too many mining families, and I'm going to do everything I can to improve mine safety laws.

It's time for the coal mining industry and the Labor Department to stop making excuses and start doing everything possible to make mines safer.