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HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE COAL MINES
FRIDAY, AUGUST 7, 1970
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met at 9:30 a.m., pursuant to recess, in room 4200, New Senate Office Building, Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Senators Williams, Randolph, and Schweiker.
Committee staff present: Frederick R. Blackwell, counsel; Gerald M. Feder, associate counsel; Eugene Mittelman, minority counsel; and Peter Benedict, minority labor counsel.
Senator WILLIAMS. The hearing will come to order.
This morning, we resume our hearings into charges of inadequate enforcement of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.
Before we begin, I have an announcement. Several members of the subcommittee have joined, at the suggestion of Senator Randolph, in sending the following telegram to President Nixon. I will read this for our record : THE PRESIDENT, The White House, Washington, D.C.:
We, the members of the Labor Subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, urgently request that you nominate a qualified director for the U.S. Bureau of Mines at the earliest possible moment.
Testimony before our subcommittee today strongly indicates that the Congressional mandate for strict enforcement of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Law is not being followed. In the past six months, the Bureau of Mines has been leaderless in a period when it is charged with the most critical responsibility in its existence. Over the past three months, 50 miners have died in accidents which, in many cases, might have been prevented if safety regulations in the law had been enforced.
Witnesses before our subcommittee charge that Bureau of Mines officials are guilty of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance. Miners contend that safety and health conditions today are worse with the new improved law than they were under the old law. These conditions, if continued, threaten a national power emergency.
Again, we cannot overemphasize the urgency of selecting a strong enforcer and administrator for the Bureau of Mines in the immediate future.
HARRISON A. WILLIAMS, JR,,
U.S. Senate JENNINGS RANDOLPH,
U.S. Senate. CLAIBORNE PELL,
U.S. Senate. RICHARD S. SCHWEIKER,
first witnesses this morning are four coal miners. They come from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. In addition to being active coal miners, with firsthand knowledge of the problems of health and safety in the coal mines, they are members and organizers of Miners for Democracy and the Black Lung Association.
They are accompanied by counsel for the Miners for Democracy, Mr. Joseph “ChipYablonski, and Mrs. Clarice Feldman.
If I may, before we begin, I would like to especially welcome Mr. Yablonski" here on this life-and-death issue of coal mine health and safety.
My first association with your late father was during the legislative struggle to enact the most comprehensive coal mine health and safety law in our history. It seems altogether appropriate that you should be here to carry on his work to insure prompt and effective enforcement of that law.
I want to also applaud your efforts and those of your brother in the recent Pittsburgh case regarding the walkout over mine safety. You have taken a major step in establishing a vital principle of law.
STATEMENTS OF JOSEPH "CHIP” YABLONSKI, COUNSEL, AND MRS.
CLARICE FELDMAN, CO-COUNSEL, MINERS FOR DEMOCRACY; AND MICHAEL TRBOVICH, NATIONAL CHAIRMAN, MINERS FOR DEMOCRACY; ARNOLD MILLER, TREASURER, BLACK LUNG ASSOCIATION; AND HARRY PATRICK, NATIONAL CO-VICE CHAIRMAN, MINERS FOR DEMOCRACY
Mr. YABLONSKI. Thank you, Senator.
It is an honor and privilege to appear again before this subcommittee.
Members of the subcommittee and its chairman, you, Senator Williams, have repeatedly shown by your action your concern for the health and safety of America's coal miners, your dedication to the well-being of the workers of America.
I am here today as counsel for Miners for Democracy.
With me are Mike Trbovich, the national chairman of the group, and Arnold Miller, the treasurer of the Black Lung Association, of West Virginia; Harry Patrick, national co-vice chairman of Miners for Democracy; and Mrs. Clarice Feldman, co-counsel.
All of these people, with the exception of Mrs. Feldman and myself, are working coal miners.
I would like to make some observations about the enforcement of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. Then each of these gentlemen will speak of their own experiences with respect to the enforcement of this law.
Coldly and calculatingly, this administration and the Bureau of Mines have emasculated the toughest occupational health and safety bill ever enacted, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.
In this operation, the administration has been assisted by the coal industry which variously hides itself behind the initials NCĂ, NCOA, or NCPC, and the United Mine Workers of America, which hides itself beneath the mantle of its late president, John L. Lewis.
The deliberate frustration of the will of Congress creates almost a constitutional crisis and requires drastic action.
The men who work in the mines are being denied their right to earn their daily bread under safe working conditions by a callously indifferent bureaucracy which is floundering in its own fat.
The initial obstacle in the path of the act of enforcement is a big one, the Bureau of Mines, itself. Because the Bureau lacks a capable director, because of the ill-timed reorganization of the Bureau which shuffled existing personnel into policymaking positions for which they were often ill equipped, because of the political appointment of a number of men who lack the expertise and experience in this vital area to high positions within the Department, because of the continuing proindustry bias and production orientation of this Government agency, and because of a number of poorly conceived policy decisions by Department officials, the Department is not enforcing the act.
Today, the American coal miner receives less protection from the Federal Government than he did a year ago when this tough new act was still in the process of being drafted. Last year, most of the large mines where 80 percent of this Nation's coal is mined were inspected at least three times.
Each of these inspections routinely required 20 man-days to complete. Sometimes these inspeotions even took longer. The result is that inspection reports were lengthy and authoritative.
Today, the Bureau does not conduct such thorough inspections. It has instituted a diluted PBR, an initial for partial but representative inspection system. These PBR's are completed within 2 to 4 man-days. It is the Bureau's stated goal to complete four such inspections of each mine this year.
These inspections are to take the place of the regular inspections conducted in previous years. How effective a compromise this can be is best illustrated by one such inspection and its consequences.
On April 6, 7, and 8 of this year, a PBR was conducted at the Helen Mining Co. in Homer City, Pa. Miners who worked there told me the inspector never examined the working faces of the mine to determine whether ventilation was adequate.
As the honorable Senator knows, inadequate ventilation is the most frequent cause of mine explosions.
The inspector did not return to the mine on April 9. The following day, on April 10, at one of the four working faces which had all been operating on only two splits of air a continuous miner ignited a methane bleeder. One man was killed and three seriously injured in this explosion.
I am also told that the men at this mine had complained about the lack of adequate ventilation. But it required the death of a miner and the serious injury to three others to abate this unsafe condition.
If the facts about this disaster recounted to me are true, I hold the Bureau directly responsible for this predictable tragedy.
I have with me the PBR inspection report and the fatality report. I would offer them into evidence before this subcommittee.
Senator WILLIAMS. We will receive them for the record.
Mr. YABLONSKI. Last year, Congress decreed that the regular inspections then being conducted by the Bureau were not enough to protect miners. Spot inspections were to be made at especially hazardous
mines, mines which liberate excessive quantities of methane gas, once every 5 working days. There are about 200 mines so classified by the Bureau.
But, in private discussions, Bureau officials have told me this provision of the act will not be fully enforced for another year.
We thought the miners should be apprised of their rights under this act and made public a list of these "especially hazardous mines," a list which was not prepared until almost 2 months after the act was effective.
I would also like to offer into evidence before the subcommittee a copy of the document which we have prepared, including the enumeration of these especially hazardous mines.
Senator WILLIAMS. It will be received into the record. (The information referred to follows:)
BUREAU OF MINES
COAL MINE INSPECTION REPORT
HOMER CITY MINE
THE HELEN MINING COMPANY
April 6-8, 1970
Stanley J. Smetana
Originating Office Bureau of Mines Federal Building - U.S. Post Office, Johnstown, Pennsylvania 15901
Donald W. Hunt ley, Subdistrict Manager Jobnstown, Pennsylvania, Subdistrict, Coal Mine Safety District A