Bush Threatens to Veto Mine Safety Bill

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The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a mine safety bill, saying the new regulations proposed by Democrats would interfere with legislation President Bush signed in 2006.

House Democrats on Wednesday planned to pass the Supplementary Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, also called S-MINER, which they say is a needed follow-up to the sweeping safety changes in the 2006 MINER Act. That bill was passed after the 2006 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 12 people.

Democrats now want to pass a bill that would add safeguards to "retreat" mining, the type of mining that was being done at central Utah's Crandall Canyon, where nine people died in August 2007. They say the bill would improve emergency response to mine sites and reduce long-term health risks facing miners.

The bill also would give the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration subpoena authority, increase penalties for safety violations, and create an ombudsman's office to handle miners' safety complaints.

The Bush administration contends that the Democrats' mine safety legislation would jeopardize achievements and efforts under way because of the MINER Act.

"We are focused on implementing the 2006 MINER Act, which provided MSHA with strong new tools to be able to accomplish this mission," said Richard Stickler, who leads the federal mine safety agency. "S-MINER, on the other hand, would undermine these and other ongoing efforts."

"In particular, several of the regulatory mandates in the S-MINER bill would weaken several existing regulations and overturn regulatory processes that were required by the MINER Act and are ongoing," according to a White House statement that threatened a presidential veto if the bill comes to Bush in its current form.

The National Mining Association, a trade group, shared the White House view that the bill would divert resources unnecessarily.

"Mine safety experts, including prominent deans and heads of leading mining engineering schools, agree that additional legislation is unwarranted until the MINER Act is fully implemented and its effectiveness properly assessed," association president Kraig R. Naasz said.

Democrats planned to push on with the legislation with the support of the United Mine Workers, which has come out in favor of the legislation.

"The administration has weakened or rolled back a number of existing mine safety regulations," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

"And now, the White House is offering a series of completely baseless excuses to explain its decision to threaten a veto of this urgently needed legislation," Miller said. "President Bush should stop playing politics with people's lives and work with Congress to enact mine safety reforms that were left unaddressed by the MINER Act of 2006."

The bill number is H.R. 2768.