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One of the more frustrating aspects of watching action on Capitol Hill is the incredibly slow pace Congress takes to move legislation forward. And the maddening part is knowing that Congress can and has operated faster in the past.
But that quick movement seems to come with a cost. During a recent House Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) bluntly explained it: “Apparently, we can only legislate if people die,” Miller said. (See video below.)
Sadly, he may be right:
- The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act was signed into law following the Sago Mine disaster.
- The update to OSHA’s cranes and derricks standard came last November following several fatal – and very public – crane incidents.
- Work began on the promulgation of a federal diacetyl regulation shortly after several reports came in on the hazard.
Miller was arguing for legislation that would provide the Mine Safety and Health Administration with additional tools to go after mine operators who continually fail to meet safety requirements. Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine-South explosion – the worst mine disaster in this country in the past 40 years. Despite pleas from miners and their families, the current law remains unchanged.
During the March 3 subcommittee hearing, MSHA administrator Joseph A. Main asked Congress to provide MSHA with additional tools to better protect workers in mines.
However, Republican leaders on the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee questioned that need when a recent internal report – disclosed in a March 2 Charleston Gazette article – found the agency had serious enforcement lapses leading up to the UBB explosion.
“It’s pretty damning,” Rep. John Kline (R-MN) said at the hearing. “It seems … that the failure is not in having the right tools in the toolbox, but in the people using the tools in the toolbox.”
Something can be said for ensuring an agency uses all the tools at its disposal, but the agency can’t do its job well if half of those tools are broken or don’t perform well enough to do the job. Main said deficiencies found in the internal report and other recent audits are being fixed, and the agency needs legislative changes to make some agency improvements.
New legislation is not meant to be approved overnight. Open debates, testimony from witnesses and negotiations are required to properly shape the most effective laws and policies.
What seems to happen more often than not, though, is the two sides of an issue take a hard-line approach to their views and nothing is accomplished. The end result is bills that could legitimately make improvements die.
The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters."